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£ lf.41 LIBRARY 



William Birney, Esq, 


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. BU 

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1856, by 

parry & McMillan, 

in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern 
District of Pennsylvania. 





Introduction 5 

Prefatory Note 9 

The General Relation of the Church to Slavery 12 


The Actual Influence of the Church on the Subject of Sla- 
very , 28 


The Position of the Church at large on the Subject of Sla- 
very 41 

The Position of the Presbyterian Church before the Divi- 
sion, in 1838, on the Subject of Slavery 49 


The Position of the 'New-School' or 'Constitutional' Pres- 
byterian Church on the Subject of Slavery 67 

The Constitutional Power of the Presbyterian Church on 

the Subject of Slavery 122 

The Duty of the Church at large on the Subject of Sla- 
very 1-53 

The Consequences of a Proper Position by the Church at 

large on the subject of slavery 169 

Appendix 197 



€\mt\ ani SMttg. 


There are times when it is important that every 
man, however humble may be his name, should 
express his views on great moral, political, and 
religious subjects. Public sentiment is made up of 
a great number of individual opinions, as earth and 
ocean are made up of a great number of individual 
particles of matter. The opinion of each individual 
contributes to form the public sentiment, as the 
labour of the animalcule in the ocean contributes to 
form the coral reefs that rise above the waves. 

Public sentiment controls our land ; public senti- 
ment will ultimately control the world. All that 
error, tyranny, and oppression demand is a strong 
public sentiment in their favor; all that is necessary 
to counteract their influence is that public senti- 
ment should be right. 

The present is eminently a time when the views 
of every man on the subject of slavery should be 
uttered in unambiguous tones. There has never been 


but one tiling that has perilled the existence of the 
American Union, and that one thing is slavery. 
There has never been a time when the Union was 
really in danger until now. There has never been a 
time when the system of slavery has been so bold, ex- 
acting, arrogant, and dangerous to liberty, as at pre- 
sent. There has never been a time when so much 
importance, therefore, could be attached to the views 
of individual men ; when so much could be done in 
favor of the rights of man by a plain utterance of 
sentiment ; when so much guilt would be incurred 
by silence. It cannot be right that any one who 
holds the system to be evil in its origin, evil in its 
bearing on the morals of men, evil in its relations to 
religion, evil in its influence on the master and the 
slave — on the body and the soul — on the North and 
the South, evil in its relations to time and in its 
relations to eternity, should so act that it shall be 
possible to misunderstand his opinions in relation 
to it, — so act that his conduct could be appealed to as 
implying an apology for the system. The circle in 
which he moves may be a limited circle ; his views 
may influence but few of the living, and may cease to 
be regarded altogether when he is dead; but for the 
utterance of those views, and for the position which 
he takes on this as on other subjects, he must soon 
give an account at a tribunal where silence on great 
moral subjects, as well as an open defence of what 
is wrong, will be regarded and treated as guilt. ISTo 
man, therefore, should allow himself on these great 
questions to be in such a position that, by any fair 
construction of his life and opinions, his influence, 
however humble it may be, should be made to sus- 


tain error and wrong, or be of such a nature that his 
name can be referred to as furnishing a support for 
cruelty and oppression. 

As it is true that the only thing that ever has 
threatened to destroy this Union, or that now 
threatens to destroy it, is slavery, so it is true that 
the only thing that alienates one portion of the land 
from the other is slavery. In language, in customs, 
in laws, in religion, we are, and always have been, 
otherwise, a united people. "We have a common 
origin. "We all look to the same " fatherland," and 
we all claim that the glory of that land, in litera- 
ture, in science, and in the arts, is a part of our 
common inheritance. W T e look back to the times 
of the Revolution ; and, whatever wisdom there was 
in council, or whatever valour there was in battle, or 
whatever there was that was self-sacrificing in the 
cause of liberty, is a part of the common inheritance 
of this generation. Our railroads spread a network 
over all the States, making them one. Simulta- 
neously through all the States of the Union the 
telegraph bears to millions of minds at once what is 
of common interest to all. Some of our great 
rivers roll along through vast States, Northern and 
Southern ; and by our location, and by all the va- 
rieties of climate and soil constituting mutual de- 
pendence, we are designed by nature to be one peo- 
ple. On the question of slavery only are we divided. 
This question meets us everywhere, generates all the 
bad feeling there is between the North and the South, 
subjects us to all the reproach that we encounter 
from abroad; and it is the source of all that tends 
to produce civil strife, to cause alienation aud dis- 


cord in the churches, or to embroil us with the na- 
tions of the earth. 

It cannot but be an inquiry of great importance 
how far the church is connected with this state of 
things, and how far, if at all, it is responsible for it. 
In a country so extensively under the influence of 
religion as ours ; where religion undeniably so much 
controls public sentiment ; where so large a portion 
of the community is connected with the church ; and 
where the Christian ministry exerts so wide an in- 
fluence on the public mind, it cannot be an unim- 
portant question what the church is doing, and what 
it ought to do, in reference to an evil so vast, and so 
perilous to all our institutions. 

I write over my own name. It is not because I 
suppose that my name will have any special claim in 
influencing the public mind ; and not because I sup- 
pose it to be important that I should "define my 
position," as if the public had any particular interest 
in my position ; and not because I suppose that the 
public will concern itself long to learn how any one 
individual thinks or feels on any subject that he may 
deem of special importance ; but because I think it 
fair and manly that a man should be willing to attach 
his name to any sentiments which he holds, and 
which he chooses, for any reason, to submit to the 
consideration of mankind. I have no wish also to 
deny that I desire that my name should be found 
associated with any well-directed effort to remove 
slavery from the earth. I believe that the religion 
which I profess is opposed in its whole spirit and ten- 
dency to slavery ; that its fair and legitimate applica- 
tion would remove the last remnant of it from the 


world ; and that iu every effort which I may make 
to show to my fellow-men the evils of the system, or 
to promote universal emancipation, I am performing 
the appropriate duty of a Christian man, and of a 
minister of the gospel of Christ. 




I REGRET much that in the first edition of this work, in 
endeavouring to vindicate my own denomination, injustice 
was done to another denomination of Christians, — the Re- 
formed Presbyterian church. The error was entirely the 
result of ignorance. I was aware, indeed, of the general 
position of the Scotch churches on the subject of slavery, and 
made a statement to that effect on p. 167; but I was wholly 
unacquainted with the particular action of the Reformed 
Presbyterian church. I am now happy to state that, except- 
ing the Quakers, they have been the first to take the position 
to which I believe all churches will yet come, and that they 
have not only anticipated the Presbyterian church — Old- 
School and New-School — in the testimony borne by those 
bodies against slavery, but have carried out those principles 
to a point which I have endeavoured to show should be aimed 
at by all Christian churches, — that of detaching themselves 
wholly from all connection with slavery. Their action, in 
connection with that of the Friends, confirms the views which 
I expressed in this volume, that it is possible for the church 
to do this; the high and noble position which they occupy in 
this respect, in advance of the position which I claimed for 
my own denomination, (pp. 120, 133, 137, 151,) shows how 


desirable it is that this should be done. I regard the testi- 
mony and the action of that denomination as of great value; 
and as an act of justice, and as confirming the argument 
which I have endeavoured to maintain, I have placed the 
action of that body in an appendix to this edition. I trust in 
God that, at no distant period, all the churches in the land 
will reach the same point; and, as showing that it can be done, 
I invite the special attention of the reader to those acts of the 
Reformed church. For the documents enabling me to make 
these statements, I am indebted to the kindness of the Rev. 
W. T. Wylie, of Milton, Pennsylvania, and the Rev. T. W. 
J. Wylie, of this city. 

In the present edition, changes have been made in the body 
of the work only in two places. In the first edition, on pp. 
183-184, I made use of the following language: — "I have 
already endeavoured to show that if a professed revelation did 
countenance slavery as a desirable institution, and placed it 
on the same level with the relation of husband and wife, 
parent and child, guardian and ward, it would be impossible 
to show that it could be a revelation from heaven." And on 
p. 193 the following expressions were used: — "We must 
either give up the point that the New Testament defends sla- 
very, or we must give up a very large — and an increasingly 
large — portion of the people of this land to infidelity; for 
they neither can, nor will, nor ought to be convinced that a 
book that sanctions slavery is from God. I believe that this 
must and should be so, and that these are great principles in 
our nature, as God made us, which can never be set aside by 
any pretended revelation; and that if a book professing to be 
a revelation from God by any fair interpretation defended sla- 
very, or placed it on the same basis as the relation of husband 
and wife, parent and child, guardian and ward, such a book 
neither ought to be, nor could be, received by mankind as a 
divine revelation.' 7 

This language has been perverted and misrepresented by 
those who find it more convenient to raise a side-issue thau to 


meet the main argument on the subject of slavery. It is 
capable, as I intended to use it, of easy vindication. But 1 
have no desire to turn the mind from the main point at issue, 
or to contribute in any way to assist those who have such a 
desire. To raise a question about the propriety of this lan- 
guage would do this. It opens, too, a wider field of inquiry 
in regard to the foundation of our faith in the Bible, than 
could be occupied in the argument pursued in this book, — a 
field which I hope to enter in another form. The language 
which I used in these extracts is not material to my argu- 
ment, and I do not know that it essentially aids it. In this 
edition I have, therefore, so modified it as to express the idea 
which it was only intended to illustrate, — that a book defend- 
ing slavery as on the same basis as the relation of parent and 
child, husband and wife, guardian and ward, CANNOT be 
made to commend itself to the mass of mankind as a revela- 
tion from God, and, THEREFORE, that all attempts to show 
that the Bible does thus authorize and sanction slavery, con- 
tribute, to just that extent, to sustain and diffuse infidelity 
in the world. This I maturely and firmly believe. 

Albert Barnes. 

Philadelphia, March 26, 1857. 




In forming a correct view of the subject, it is im- 
portant, first of all, to ascertain what is the actual 
relation of the church to slavery, or how the church 
becomes interested in the questions that pertain to it, 
and what responsibility it sustains in regard to it ; 
then to inquire what is the actual position of the 
church in regard to it ; and then what is the duty of 
the church, in the present state of things in our 
country, in regard to it. I write with special reference 
to my own denomination ; but at the same time I shall 
write in such a manner as to show what is the gene- 
ral relation which the various denominations of 
Christians in this land sustain to the system. There 
is an essential brotherhood in the family of Christian 
churches in regard to what is good. Alas ! it is to be 
feared that there is, to a great extent, a fearful brother- 
hood in those churches in sustaining enormous evils. 

The following facts, then, will be admitted to be 
undeniable ; and they will show how the church 
becomes interested in the questions relating to 

1. iSTot a few church-members are slave-holders. 
Compared, indeed, with all the members of the 
church in the land, or compared with those who are 
slave-holders who are not members of the church, 


the number is few; but in the aggregate the 
number of members of the church, in all the 
religious denominations, who hold their fellow- 
men in bondage, is not small. I am not aware that 
the exact number of slave-holders in any deno- 
mination has been ascertained, nor do I know of 
any data by which a probable approximation to the 
number could be made ; but the fact that there are 
such members of the church, and that the number 
in the aggregate is not small, it would be as impos- 
sible to deny as it is painful to admit it. It is to be 
conceded, also, that a portion of these are ministers 
of the gospel and others who bear important offices, 
and who sustain important stations in the churches. 
It is to be admitted, also, that of these church-mem- 
bers, embracing also, it is to be feared, some who 
are ministers of the gospel, there are those who are 
slave-holders in the most rigid and offensive sense, — 
who hold slaves not merely by inheritance, or by a 
legal relation for the good of the slave ; who hold 
them not because they are aged and need a protector; 
who hold them not in transitu and for the purpose of 
emancipating them ; who hold them not as prejmring 
them for freedom, and with properly-executed instru- 
ments which would secure their freedom should they 
themselves die ; who hold them under none of the 
forms of mere guardianship and for the purpose of 
humanity, but as slaves, as property, as chattels, as 
liable to be disposed of like the other portions 
of their estate when they die. There are those 
also in the churches who purchase and sell slaves 
as they do any other property; who buy them 
that they may avail themselves of their unrequited 


labour ; and who sell them as they do any other pro- 
perty, for the sake of gain. It is to be admitted, also, 
that there are those who thus hold slaves under laws 
which forbid their being taught to read, and who 
comply with those laws ; under laws which restrain 
their religious liberty, and who comply with those 
laws ; under laws which prevent all proper formation 
of the marriage-relation, and all proper organization 
of the family-relation, and who comply with those 
laws ; and under laws which, when a man dies, make 
his slaves liable to be sold for the payment of his 
debts, — like any other part of his property. It is to 
be admitted, also, that there are those connected with 
the Christian churches who hold their slaves under 
laws which furnish no security for maintaining the 
relation between man and wife, and parents and 
children, among their slaves, and who lift up no voice 
of remonstrance against the iniquity of those laws, 
and make no effort to secure their own slaves from 
the tremendous evils inflicted on human beings by 
their operation. If this is a fact, one source of the 
interest which the church has in the subject of 
slavery will be at once apparent ; if this is a fact, no 
one can question the propriety of an appeal to the 
church on the subject. 

2. Kot a few ministers of the gospel, and members 
of the churches, either apologize for slavery, or openly 
defend it, even as it exists in the United States. 
It is not affirmed here that the proportion of those 
who thus apologize for slavery, or who defend it, as 
compared with those who entertain other views, is 
large, or that a majority of the ministers of religion 
or members of the churches in the land are impli- 


cated iii the guilt of defending the system ; and it 
cannot be denied that gross injustice is often done 
to the ministers of the gospel in this country, and to 
members of the churches, by charging on all that 
which belongs only to a part, and much the smallest 
part, of the entire body. But still the following facts 
are undeniable : — 

(a) There are those, as has been already remarked, 
who are themselves slave-holders, and, so far as ap- 
pears, slave-holders in the proper sense of the term : 
holding their fellow-men in bondage, not as guar- 
dians, not as sustaining merely the legal relation with 
a view to their freedom, not as educating them for 
freedom, and not making provision for their eman- 
cipation, but as slaves, — as property, — with a view to 
worldly gain from the relation, and without remon- 
strance against the oppressive laws which withhold 
from them the word of God, and which regard them 
as liable to be treated like any other property in case 
of the death of the master. 

(b) There are those who defend the system as one 
authorized by the Bible, and as having for its 
sanction the authority of God; who refer to it as 
a "patriarchal" institution, sustained by the ex- 
ample of the holy men of early times, and as not, as 
they allege, discountenanced by the teaching of the 
Saviour and his apostles. This number is not, 
indeed, large ; but no one can doubt that there are 
those in the church who occupy this position, and 
whose aid is relied on by those who wish to make 
the system perpetual in the land. 

(c) There are those who, while they are not them- 
selves slave-holders, and are not open advocates of 


the system, and who would consider that great injus- 
tice was done them if they were represented as pro- 
slavery men, yet regard the system as substantially 
on the same foundation as the other relations in 
life ; — not wrong in itself, wrong only in its abuses. 
Thus, the relation of "master and servant" is com- 
pared w T ith the relation of husband and wife, and 
parent and child, and landlord and tenant, and guar- 
dian and ward, and master and apprentice, — relations 
growing out of the constitution of things, or spring- 
ing up in the necessities of society, and, as such, 
relations which may be expected always to exist in 
the world. By this class of ministers and church 
members, it is sometimes affirmed that the relation 
is founded on the judgment of God on a doomed 
race, — the descendants of Ham ; sometimes that it is 
founded on the inferiority of the African race ; some- 
times that it is justified by the difference of complex- 
ion, sometimes by the alleged fact that, incapable of 
guiding themselves, they need the guardianship and 
protection of a superior race, and sometimes by the 
alleged fact that it is only in this way that the African 
can be raised to a participation in the blessings of 
civilization and Christianity. Whatever may be the 
foundation of the representation, the essential idea 
is that the relation is one that is lawful, or that it is 
on the same basis as the lawful relations of human 
society. For the abuses of the system they would 
hold men responsible, as they would in the relation 
of parents and children, and master and apprentice, 
but not for the relation itself any more in the one 
case than in the other. According to this view, 
the fact of being a slave-holder furnishes no more 


presumption against a man's Christian character than 
the fact of being a husband and father, or than the 
fact of being at the head of a large mercantile or 
manufacturing establishment : for the abuse of power 
in either case, and precisely for the same reasons, he 
would be justly responsible, and would incur blame ; 
but not for the mere relation in the one case more 
than in the other. 

(d) There are those in the ministry, and those who 
are private members of the churches, who, whatever 
may be their real sentiments, are, from their position, 
their silence, or their avowed conservatism, classed 
in public estimation with the apologists for slavery, 
and whose aid can never be relied on in any efforts 
for the emancipation of those who are in bondage. 
They have attached an importance to the modern 
idea of conservatism which cannot be justified by any 
reference to the teachings of the Bible, or the life 
and doctrines of the Saviour, — an idea which makes 
it possible to plead their example in favour of that 
which is wrong, as well as of that which is right. 
They regard that which is fixed and settled as so 
important that it is better that a wrong should be 
endured, rather than to peril the safety of existing 
institutions bv any change whatever. Thev have 
affixed to the Union of the States such a value that 
it is fairly inferred from their opinion that it is 
better that any evil should be endured — that any 
number of millions of human beings should be held 
in hopeless bondage — than that the existence of 
the Union should be perilled. They have affixed 
an odious idea to the word abolitionist, and, so far 
as their influence goes, led the public to do it also; 


surrounding it with all that is disorganizing and 
radical, with all that is repulsive in fanaticism 
and dangerous in politics, with all that is hate- 
ful in intermeddling in the concerns of others, 
and with all that arouses the soul in the idea of 
treason. "With this name, also, this class of ministers 
of the gospel, and these members of the churches, 
endeavour to associate the idea of infidelity; and, 
because some who have assumed the name have 
rejected the Bible and denounced the Christian 
church and the Christian ministry as upholders 
of this enormous evil, their influence in fact goes 
to convey the inference that abolitionism and in- 
fidelity are really if not quite identical, and that to 
attempt to emancipate the slave would be an at- 
tempt to spread the evils of skepticism through the 

(e) There are editors of religious papers, and 
authors of books connected with the Christian 
church, whose opinions are of great value to slave- 
holders in defending the s}'stem of slavery. If there 
is no formal and avowed defence of slavery, and even 
if there is an occasional formal statement that they 
are personally opposed to the system, yet their influ- 
ence is such as to make it possible and convenient 
to refer to them in support of the system. Their 
words of condemnation are so cold, so formal, so 
few and so far between, that with the advocates of 
the system they pass for mere form. They speak 
of the relation of master and slave as they do of any 
other relation; they inculcate the duties of the mas- 
ter and the duties of the slave as they do the duties 
of the parent and the duties of the child, with the 


underlying idea that the relations are equally lawful 
and designed to be equally permanent. They enjoin 
on the slave submission to his condition, as they do 
on the poor man contentment in his poverty, as 
if both were in the same sense among the fixed 
though mysterious arrangements of Providence. 
They adduce arguments from the Bible in regard 
to the relation which are gratifying in an eminent 
degree to the slave-holder, and they adopt such ex- 
positions of the Bible as are exactly what he desires 
in order to sustain him in his position and to sanc- 
tion his holding his fellow-men in bondage. They 
employ words in regard to the system so smooth 
that, if they do not actually furnish a formal 
defence of the evil, yet will not disturb the sleep 
of the slave-holder, but are rather fitted to give 
ease to his conscience and to impart to him quiet 
slumbers and pleasant dreams. Meantime they 
make use of just such words and just such argu- 
ments in regard to abolitionism as to be grateful in 
the highest decree to slave-holders themselves. Ko 
one can doubt that not a few of the conductors of 
the religious press in this country are constantly thus 
expressing views which are eminently gratifying to 
slave-holders as such, and which are among the 
means by which they sustain themselves in their 
position and by which they justify themselves in 
holding their fellow-men in bondage. 

3. Large portions of the church are in the midst 
of slavery. The institutions which surround the 
church are those which are connected with slavery 
and which take a peculiar cast and complexion 
from slavery. In many respects those institutions 


are different from similar institutions where freedom 
prevails. The customs of society are different. The 
intercourse in social life is different. The modes of 
speech are different. The views entertained of labour 
are different. The views of rank and position in 
society are different. They who are in the con- 
dition of domestics or servants are regarded and 
treated in a different manner. A different kind of 
deference towards their superiors is expected, and a 
different mode of treating them and of speaking to 
them is expected. Children at the North and the 
South grow up with different modes of speech and 
behaviour, and they enter on life with different views 
of the essential organization of society. Slavery 
touches on society at a thousand different points; 
and it is impossible that there should be any institu- 
tion in a region where slavery prevails which will 
not be more or less affected by it. 

Besides, though the churches located in the midst 
of slavery may be wholly free from any direct par- 
ticipation in it, it is still true that the church is 
designed to influence all surrounding institutions. 
This is a part of its mission in the world, — a part 
of the reason why it is established and perpetuated 
on the earth. The church often springs up in the 
midst of a mass of moral corruption for the very 
purpose of modifying by its influence existing insti- 
tutions, and changing the whole aspect of society. 
Pure in itself, it sheds a benign influence on all 
around, and its contact with prevailing institutions 
rebukes what is wrong and suggests and sanctions 
what is right. By a healthful contact it diffuses 
moral purity through a community. A church, 


therefore, located in the midst of slavery, though 
all its members may be wholly unconnected with 
slavery, yet owes an important duty to society and 
to God in reference to the system; and its mis- 
sion will not be accomplished by securing merely 
the sanctification of its own members, or even by 
drawing: within its fold multitudes of those who 
shall be saved. It is not merely by an orthodox 
faith, or by the pure lives of its own members, that 
it fulfils its work on the earth ; it is not merely by 
its being the patron of schools and colleges, or by 
its influence in sending the gospel to heathen lands ; 
it is not by the establishment of Sabbath-schools for 
the children of its own families, or by zeal in dis- 
tributing Bibles and the publications of the Tract 
Society within its geographical limits, that its work 
is to be done. Its primary work as a church may 
have reference to an existing evil within its own 
geographical limits. The burden which is laid upon 
it may not be primarily the conversion of the heathen 
or the diffusion of Bibles and tracts abroad : the work 
which God requires it to do, and for which specifi- 
cally it has been planted there, may be to diffuse a 
definite moral influence in respect to an existing 
evil institution. On all that is wrong in social life, 
in the modes of intercourse, in the habits of training 
the young, and in the prevailing sentiments in the 
community that have grown out of existing institu- 
tions, God may have planted the church there to 
exert a definite moral influence,— a work for him- 
self. "Whether it is to make a direct assault on such 
institutions may be another question; but there can 
be no difference of opinion as to the fact that a 


church thus situated has much to do with all exist- 
ing institutions, and, therefore, with slavery; and 
that its influence in regard to that system is a part 
of the work which it is to accomplish in the world. 
In the nature of the case it cannot be otherwise than 
that it will, in very important respects, come in contact 
with slavery. The church will affect the institution 
of slavery, or the institution of slavery will affect the 
church. It will send out a healthful moral influence 
to secure its removal, or the system will send out a 
corrupt influence into the church itself, to mould the 
opinions of its members, to corrupt their piety, to 
make them apologists for oppression and wrong, and 
to secure its sanction in sustaining the system itself. 
"Which will be the preponderating influence can- 
not be determined by mere conjecture. It would 
be a more sad and dark page in the history of the 
church than could be desired, if one should under- 
take to record the actual result. Whether, in our 
own country, it has moulded the system in the midst 
of which it is placed, or the system has moulded #, is 
an inquiry on which one who is desirous to show 
that the church has always exerted a good influence 
on the surrounding world would perhaps prefer to 
be silent. 

4. The interest which the church has in the sub- 
ject of slavery may be seen, in connection with the 
preceding remark, from the power which the church 
necessarily has on all great moral subjects. In re 
ference to this the following things will commend 
themselves as worthy of attention : — 

(a) The number of professing Christians in all 
parts of this land where slavery abounds, in the 


aggregate, is not small. Compared with the whole 
population, or with the whole number of slave- 
holders, or with the whole number of members in 
the great religious denominations in the land, we 
shall see, indeed, in another part of this Essay, that 
the number is not large ; and yet it is probable that 
a community of slave-holders cannot be found where 
there is not a portion of the people who are either 
professors of religion, or who sustain an intimate re- 
lation to the church. Xo community of slave-holders 
in this land is made up of a heathen population ; 
none of a population avowedly infidel. There is no 
such community in which the prevailing views in re- 
gard to slavery itself are derived from the specula- 
tions of heathen philosophers or moralists ; none 
in which the authority of the Bible is professedly 
abjured ; none in whieh the Sabbath and the sanc- 
tuary, the Sabbath-school and the prayer-meeting, 
are wholly unknown. The mass of slave-holders 
themselves, though not professing Christians, are 
not avowed infidels ; nor is it known that infi- 
delity prevails among them to a greater extent than 
it does in other portions of the community. In- 
deed, it would probably be found, from causes which 
need not now be inquired into, that avowed infi- 
delity is less common at the South than at the 
Xorth, and that there are fewer men, in the States 
where slavery prevails, who would be willing to 
take the position of open rejection of the Bible, 
than there are amidst the freer institutions of the 

(b) The church has influence in all such places. 
The men who compose it are not altogether those 


of the humbler ranks, or those who have little or 
nothing at stake in society. A respectable portion 
of the members of the church, in places where 
slavery prevails as well as elsewhere, is composed 
of men of wealth, of education, and of elevated 
standing in the community. "Not a few occupy 
public positions ; not a few are members of the 
learned professions ; and no one can doubt that, as 
members of the church, they do much to control the 
public mind on the subject of morals. 

(c) Again : In our country there is no class 
of men who exert more influence than ministers 
of the gospel ; and there is, perhaps, no portion 
of the land where ministers of the gospel in fact 
exert more influence than they do in slave-hold- 
ing communities. Probably there is no part of 
the land where they mingle so freely in social life. 
There is no portion of the land where they are ad- 
mitted more readily to the intimacies of families, or 
where their presence is regarded as more desirable in 
society. It should be added, also, that there is no 
part of the land where more time is actually spent by 
ministers of the gospel in social life, or in free, plea- 
sant, and familiar intercourse with the people. From 
the nature of the prevalent habits in the free States, 
where so few men have leisure for social inter- 
course, it is undoubtedly a fact that ministers of the 
gospel are much more a distinct portion of the com- 
munity — under a much stronger inducement to 
withdraw from social life — than in slave-holding 
communities ; and, if there is any portion of the 
land where ministers of the gospel enjoy peculiar 
facilities for influencing the public mind, directly 


and indirectly, it would seem to be in the slave- 
holding States. And, as no one could estimate the 
power which ministers of the gospel might have, in 
such communities, in removing this evil, so no one 
can estimate the actual influence which they do 
exert in sustaining and perpetuating it. If it 
should he found to he true that they are silent on 
this subject while they freely denounce all other 
forms of sin, — if it should be true that they apo- 
logize for it as they would not dare or wish to 
do for intemperance, Sabbath-breaking, licentious- 
ness, gambling or, lotteries, — if it should be true 
that they refer to this relation as they do to the 
relations of husband and wife, parent and child, 
master and apprentice, landlord and tenant, — if it 
should be true that they make a frequent reference, 
and one quite satisfactory to slave-holders, to the 
institution of slavery as i patriarchal,' implying 
that the slavery now existing is of the same nature 
as that which existed in patriarchal times, or imply- 
ing that the sanction of a patriarch gave authority 
to slavery any more than it did to polygamy or 
fraud, — if it should be true that they indulge in 
great freedom of language, and language everyway 
gratifying to slave-holders, in regard to abolitionists, 
and that they usually represent the fact of being an 
abolitionist as being synonymous with being an 
infidel, a fanatic, a disorganizer, or an enemy of 
the Union, — then it is clear that no one can esti- 
mate the actual influence of the ministers of the 
gospel in sustaining slavery, and no one can fail to 
see that the church has an important interest in *be 
great questions respecting slavery and freedom. 


(d) Again, to recur a moment to a point already 
referred to: — There is a large number of editors 
of papers and authors of books who are connected 
with the church, and whose influence must be great 
in regard to questions like those which pertain to 
slavery. Not a few of those editors and authors 
are educated ministers of the gospel ; and the com- 
munity is accustomed to look up to them, as minis- 
ters and as conductors of the press, for the forma- 
tion of its opinions on moral subjects. No class of 
men, perhaps, exert a wider influence than the con- 
ductors of the press; and on no subject is that 
influence more likely to be referred to as forming 
the public mind than on the subject of slavery. It 
is easy, therefore, to see that the church in this 
respect may have a very intimate connection with 
slavery. If the conductors of the press — and espe- 
cially of the religious press — shall be found to 
speak of slavery as a scriptural, a permanent, or a 
'patriarchal' institution, — if they more frequently 
refer to the comparatively dark and barbarous times 
when the patriarchs lived than to the teachings of 
the Saviour, — if they make constant reference to it 
as an institution that is on the same basis as the re- 
lations of master and apprentice, husband and wife, 
parent and child, — if their sympathy is always with 
the master and never with the slave, always with 
those portions of the country where slavery pre- 
vails and never with any others, — if, instead of see- 
ing no North, no South, they see only the South, 
— if they are loud in their denunciations of aboli- 
tionists, and liberal in the use of the terms ' fana- 
tics' and i disorganize^,' as applied to them, — 


and especially if they have had the misfortune to he 
bred, at the North, and have then lived so long at 
the South, and been so long under Southern influ- 
ence, that they can refer to their own observation 
as to the real facts about slavery as placing them 
on higher ground, in judging of the teachings of the 
Bible and the principles of religion, liberty, and 
morals, than men can possibly occupy who have 
never witnessed the happy workings of the system, 
— then it is clear that the friends of slavery must 
regard the influence of such men as of inestimable 
value in their cause, and that nothing could be 
better adapted to soothe the conscience of the slave- 
holder, and to satisfy him that in sustaining this 
relation he is " doing God service." 




If now it be asked, What is the actual influence 
of the church at large in regard to slavery? the 
following facts cannot but be regarded as undeni- 
able : — 

1. It is probable that slavery could not be sus- 
tained in this land if it were not for the countenance, 
direct and indirect, of the churches. That is, if all 
the churches should assume in regard to it the position 
which the society of Friends has done, and which 
some of the Scotch and German churches have done, 
and simply detach themselves from it, it is probable 
that there is not power enough out of the church to 
sustain the system. It is not true, indeed, that the 
church is in any proper sense the 'bulwark of sla- 
very;' for, taking the church at large since the time 
when it first found slavery established in the Roman 
empire, no other cause has operated so effectually in 
restraining and removing it as the influence of the 
church ; and, taking the church at large in our own 
country, it is not true that it sustains or defends the 
system. The great opponents of the system, at all 
times, have been, for the most part, members of the 
Christian church and professed followers of the Sa- 


viour. What did Herbert and Chubb and Boling- 
broke do in emancipating the slave ? What did not 
Clarkson and Wilberforce do? What has heathen- 
ism ever done in emancipating the slave ? What has 
Mohammedanism ? What have heroes and philoso- 
phers, as such, done? It was by the influence of 
Christianity that slavery was abolished in the Ro- 
man empire. It was by the same influence that 
emancipation occurred in the British empire. And 
it is still true that the most decided influence adverse 
to slavery in this land has come from the bosom 
of the Christian church. But it is also true that, 
while the church is not the bulwark of slavery, there 
is not power enough out of the church to sustain it 
if the church were wholly detached from it and 
arrayed against it. Let the facts just stated be borne 
in mind, respecting the number of members of the 
church who are slave-holders, the number of minis- 
ters of the gospel in the same position, the silence 
of many of the ministers and churches in regard 
to the evil, the views entertained by many of the 
ministers of the gospel adapted to soothe the con- 
sciences of slave-holders, the influence of the reli- 
gious press, and the fact that the institution is 
placed, by such ministers and editors and authors, 
on the same basis as the relation of husband and 
wife, and master and apprentice, as a permanent 
and lawful relation, and as implying no more blame 
or guilt than those relations ; and let it be supposed 
that all this was reversed, and that all this influence 
was arrayed against the system, and that the whole 
Christian population of the land was in all respects 
not only detached from it, but arrayed against it : 


would there be influence enough out of the church 
to perpetuate the system in the land ? 

2. It cannot be doubted that the views enter- 
tained and expressed by Christian ministers, and by 
others connected with the Christian church, in fact, 
do much to sustain slave-holders in their own views. 
It cannot but do much to relieve their consciences 
from trouble to know that the views which it is their 
interest to entertain are entertained by so large a 
portion of the Christian world. The conscience of 
the people of the world is little likely to be distressed 
or disturbed when the course which it wishes to pur- 
sue is sustained by the voice of the religious portion 
of the community. Whatever might be the views 
and feelings of slave-holders themselves if left to the 
admonitions of their own consciences, or if left to in- 
terpret the Bible for themselves, it is more than pro- 
bable that they will welcome an interpretation of the 
Bible which coincides directly with their own interest, 
and that the fact that the Bible is thus interpreted 
will do much to allay any apprehensions which they 
may have of their own guilt. It is not probable that 
men in these circumstances, and with so much that 
is derived from interest to sustain them in their views, 
will regard that as deeply criminal which is sustained 
by so many occupying high positions in the religious 
world, or that they will apply themselves to any 
very close investigation in regard to the morality of 
a practice in which their own inclination, their own 
interest, and their own ease, all combine to induce 
them to believe that it is not immoral. It is, more- 
over, an undoubted fact that slaveholders do coun- 
tenance those ministers who interpret the Bible in 


accordance with what their own interest would sus;- 
gest as a desirable interpretation; that they evince a 
much stronger affinity for those denominations of 
Christians who look with an indulgent eye on sla- 
very than they do on those where it is made the sub- 
ject of free discussion, and where a decided testi- 
mony is borne against it; and that they welcome to 
their families those religious papers which speak of 
it as a 'patriarchal' institution, and which place it 
on the same basis as the relation of master and ap- 
prentice, and husband and wife, rather than those 
which treat it as they do any other wrong relation 
and speak of the system as they do of any other evil. 
And it is undoubtedly true that those slave-holders 
who desire to find words of apology from others for 
slavery to sustain them in the practice, — who prefer 
relying on the judgment of others in matters where 
their own interest is concerned and where they desire 
that their consciences may not be troubled, — and 
who would be pleased to have in their families, and 
to have regularly circulated in a slave-holding com- 
munity, religious papers in fact lending a sanction to 
slavery and placing it on the same level with lawful 
relations of life, — can find in the "religious press" of 
this country an ample gratification of their desires. 
There are papers professedly religious which express 
all that they could wish; and those papers come 
sustained and sanctioned by as respectable names of 
ministers of the gospel, and by as earnest and hearty 
commendations of ecclesiastical bodies, as could be 
desired. Indeed, if it be a fact that slave-holders 
desire from the church words of apology, — if they wish 
the countenance of ministers of religion to sustain 


them, — if they prefer not to investigate the Bible 
for themselves, from the apprehension that they 
would not find its spirit as favourable to slavery as 
they would desire, and would therefore prefer to rely 
on professed expositors of the Bible rather than on 
their own judgment, — and if they would wish for a 
class of newspapers to defend their institutions, and 
to brand all efforts to abolish slavery as fanaticism, 
and to suppress all discussion of the subject in eccle- 
siastical bodies, — it does not appear how they could 
adjust matters more to their own satisfaction than by 
the present arrangement. It is not easy to see what 
alterations they would themselves suggest in the 
course actually pursued by a considerable portion of 
the religious press in this country, or how, if all 
these were suspended, they could originate a plan 
that would better subserve their own wishes than 
they find now prepared to their hand. How many 
of the weekly newspapers that are now circulated in 
the region where slavery prevails, even those that 
are called ' religious,' are there that would be likely 
to disturb the conscience of a slave-holder ? How 
many are there that would disabuse the mind of a 
slave-holder in regard to the character of the great 
mass who seek the abolition of slavery, and change 
the view that he is so much disposed to entertain, — ■ 
that all abolitionists are fanatics ? How many are 
there that would suggest to him a doubt whether the 
relation of master and slave is not as lawful as the 
relation of master and apprentice, of parent and 
child ? How many religious tracts issued by the tract 
societies are there that would ever start the question 
in the mind of a slave-holder whether the relation is 


not as scriptural and lawful as the relation of mas- 
ter and apprentice, of guardian and ward ? 

3. In estimating the influence of the church on 
the subject of slavery, and the tendency of the repre- 
sentations made on the subject, it deserves to be 
considered how much is done by these representa- 
tions to promote infidelity. There is a deep and 
growing conviction in the minds of the mass of 
mankind that slavery violates great laws of our 
nature; that it is contrary to the dictates of hu- 
manity; that it is essentially unjust, oppressive, 
and cruel; that it invades the rights of liberty 
with which the Author of our being has endowed 
all human beings; and that, in all the forms in 
which it has ever existed, it has been impossible 
to guard it from what its friends and advocates 
would call "abuses of the system." It is a viola- 
tion of the first sentiments expressed in our Decla- 
ration of Independence, and on which our fathers 
founded the vindication of their own conduct 
in an appeal to arms ; it is at war with all that a 
man claims for himself and for his own children ; 
and it is opposed to all the struggles of mankind, 
in all ages, for freedom. The claims of humanity 
plead against it. The struggles for freedom every- 
where in our world condemn it. The instinctive 
feeling in every man's own bosom in regard to him- 
self is a condemnation of it. The noblest deeds of 
valour and of patriotism in our own land, and in all 
lands where men have struggled for freedom, are 
a condemnation of the system. All that is noble in 
man is opposed to it; all that is base, oppressive, 
and cruel, pleads for it. It is condemned by the in- 


stinctive feelings of the human soul ; it is condemned 
by the principles laid down in the books on morality 
that are placed in the hands of the young ; it is con- 
demned by the universal voice of history. There is 
nothing on which the sentiments of men outside of 
the church are coming to be more harmonious than 
in regard to the essential evil of slavery; there is 
nothing to which the course of things in the world, 
under the promptings of humanity, is more certainly 
tending, in all lands, than to the conviction that sla- 
very is essentially evil and wrong, and that every 
human being, unless convicted of crime, has a right 
to freedom. There is nothing that finds a more 
hearty approbation from the world at large than an 
act of emancipation by a government; there is no- 
thing that goes more permanently into the history 
of a nation than the changes in public affairs which 
result in such an act. There has been nothing that 
has more definitely marked the course of history, 
or constituted more marked epochs in history, than 
the successive steps which break the bonds of 
slavery and elevate men to the rank and dignity of 

It is now impossible to convince the world that 
slavery is rigid, or is in accordance with the will of 
God. Xo decisions of councils or synods, and no 
teachings of a hierarchy, will change the onward 
course of opinion on this subject. Xo alleged au- 
thority of the Bible will satisfy men at large that 
the system is not always a violation of the laws that 
God has enstamped on the human soul. Xo apolo- 
gies for it will take it out of the category of crime 
in the estimation of mankind at large, and place it 


in the category of virtues. The sentiment that it 
is wrons:, — always wrong, — that it is a violation of 
the great laws of our being, — that it is contrary to 
the benevolent arrangements of the Maker of the 
race, — is becoming as fixed as the everlasting hills ; 
and nothing can eradicate this sentiment from the 
hearts of mankind. This sentiment is becoming 
deeper and deeper in the convictions of the world 
every year; and, whatever may change, this is d< a- 
tined to remain unchangeably fixed. There is nothing 
more certain than that the world will not be brought 
to approve of slavery, and that the malediction of 
all good men will rest upon the system. Xo matter 
on what this sentiment impinges, it will be held; 
and nothing will be long held that is opposed to this 
deep conviction of the essential evil of the system. 
Men that are not otherwise disposed to be infidels 
will be infidels if, as the price of faith, they are re- 
quired to abjure this conviction, and to hold that 
slavery is from God. 

"What, then, in this state of things, will be the 
effect of teaching that slavery is authorized by the 
Bible, — a professed revelation from God? That in 
that revelation slavery is contemplated as a permanent 
institution ? That, according to the received interpre- 
tation, and the views of those who hold it to be a 
revelation from God, it is plainly implied that sla- 
very is on the same basis as the relation of parent 
and child, guardian and ward, and as such is to be 
tolerated in the church, and to be among the things 
that are to be perpetuated and extended wherever the 
Bible controls human belief and conduct? That, ac- 
cording to the fair and received teachings of that 


book, it implies no more criminality to be a slave- 
holder than to be a father, a brother, or a neighbour? 
That the object of the Bible, so far as this is con- 
cerned, is to legislate for the system, and not to re- 
move it; and that they who attempt to secure the 
emancipation of those held in bondage, and to im- 
part to others the blessings of freedom, are 'radicals' 
and ' fanatics'? That to attempt to carry out practi- 
cally the statement in the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence, that u all men are created equal," and "that 
they are endowed by their Creator with certain 
inalienable rights; that among these are life, li- 
berty, and the pursuit of happiness," is a violation 
of all the teachings of God's revealed will to man- 
kind? That men who seek to transfuse into their 
own bosoms, in behalf of the African race, the 
sentiments which made Samuel Adams and John 
Hancock what they were, cherish feelings at war 
with revealed religion? And that men who seek 
to carry out practically what the world has been 
struggling for in the great battles of liberty, are 
'fanatics' and 'disorganize^,' — are enemies of the 
plain teaching of the Bible, and rejecters of the 
word of God? 

On many minds there can be but one result of 
such views. It will be, so for as these are regarded 
as the teachings of the Bible, to lead men to reject 
the Bible ; to confirm skeptics in infidelity ; and to 
furnish an argument to the rejecter of revelation 
which it will not be possible to answer. Such views 
impinge on great principles of human nature, and 
are at war with the teachings of God in the human 
soul, and with the lessons drawn from his dealings 


with the nations of the earth. All that is great and 
noble in man; all the instinctive aspirations for free- 
dom in his own bosom ; all his desires for liberty for 
himself and for his children ; all the deep convic- 
tions in the soul in regard to human rights and the 
inestimable value of liberty, is at war with such 
teachings ; and all the struggles for freedom in the 
world — all the lessons of history — go to confirm the 
impression that a book which contains such views 
of human bondage — which would place it among the 
lawful relations of life, and make provision for its 
being perpetual — cannot be from God. Men will 
say, and say in a form which cannot be met, 'If 
such are the teachings of the Bible, it is impossible 
that that book should be a revelation given to 
mankind from the true God. He has written, as if 
" graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock 
forever," other lessons than these on the souls of 
men; and both cannot be true. Nothing can be 
more certain than that man was formed by his Maker 
for freedom, and that all men have a right to be free. 
Kothino; can be more true than the declaration in 
the immortal instrument which asserts our national 
independence, that "all men are created equal; 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain 
inalienable rights ; and that among these are life and 
liberty." Nothing can be more certain than that 
God has implanted in the human soul a desire of 
liberty which is a fair expression of what he intends 
shall be the settled condition of things in the world. 
"We want no book,' such men will go on to say, 
'which proclaims other doctrines than these; we can 
embrace no book as a revelation from God which docs 


not coincide with the great laws of our nature, — those 
laws which proclaim thac all men have a right to he 
free. Xo hook which departs in its teachings from 
those great laws can possibly be from God.' 

It is easy to see what would he the effect of similar 
teachings in any parallel case. Suppose it were al- 
leged to he true that the Bihle sanctioned polygamy, 
and that polygamy was regarded there as on the same 
basis as the original relation of marriage, or as any 
other lawful relation of life. Suppose that this was 
affirmed, by a large class of the best interpreters, to 
be the teaching of the Bible, and that it was so re- 
garded by the church at large. And suppose that 
constant apologies were made for the institution of 
polygamy, and that it was maintained that men in 
this relation were responsible only for the abuses 
of the system, — for the quarrels, brawls, strifes, and 
jealousies that grow out of it. And suppose that 
the terms 'fanatics' and ' enemies of the Bible' were 
freely applied in the church to all who should call in 
question the lawfulness of polygamy, and seek to re- 
store marriage to what seems to be an obvious law of 
nature, — the connection with one wife. What would 
be the effect of this doctrine in regard to the recep- 
tion of the Bible as a revelation from God? In 
Pagan, Mohammedan, and Mormon regions it might 
not operate extensively in preventing the belief that 
it might be a divine revelation : but what would be 
the effect in a civilized land? Millions there ai 
who could not, and would not, receive a book with 
such teachings as containing a revelation from God; 
and, whatever pretended external evidences such a 
book might have in its favour, they would say, ' We 


cannot receive it as containing the teachings of 
divine wisdom. God has organized society on a dif- 
ferent basis ; and a book containing such teachings 
cannot be from heaven.' 

I believe that such inferences are legitimate, and 
that such reasoning cannot be answered. I believe 
that a pretended revelation, to be received in the 
world, must not contradict the great and eternal 
laws which God has written in the souls of men, and 
which have been incorporated into the very frame- 
work of social life. I do not believe that any book 
can make its way in the world as a revelation from 
God, or secure a permanent hold on the hearts of 
men as coming from him, which by its fair interpre- 
tation would teach that either polygamy or slavery is 
a lawful institution ; that either is on the same moral 
basis as the relation of husband and wife, parent and 
child, master and apprentice, and that they are de- 
signed to be permanent relations in the world. But, 
at the same time, I do not believe that such are the 
fair teachings of the Bible : and I cannot, therefore, 
but regard all those who take this view of slavery as 
contributing, though undesignedly, to the defence 
and spread of infidelity. At all events, it is worth 
the serious consideration of all the real friends of 
religion, whether this effect is not actually produced 
in the land, and whether infidels are not thus fur- 
nished with a weapon against the Bible which it is 
not possible for those who entertain these views to 

It is not intrusion, then, — it is not becoming a 
"busybody in other men's matters," — it is not imperti- 
nent and unlawful interference, — when the Christian 


church lifts up a voice of eutreaty or of warning in 
regard to slavery. It is so placed that it cannot but 
be interested in the question ; it is so related to the 
system that it must exert a vast if not a controlling 
influence in perpetuating it, or in removing it from 
our land and from the world. 




Such being the case, it is important to inquire 
what is the actual position of the church in relation 
to slavery. The infidel has a right to ask this ques- 
tion; the Christian ought to be able to answer it. 

The influence of the church is not, and has not 
been, what it might be ; it is not what it should be. 
But, then, it should not be held responsible for what 
it cannot do; nor should its general influence be 
measured by the views of a small portion of its 
members. Xo body of men should be judged by the 
errors of a portion of its own body, or be charged as 
a whole with that which properly belongs only to a 
part. In respect to a portion of the church, we may 
admit that we have no words of apology to offer; 
while in the movements of other portions of it, and 
in the general effect of Christianity on the system 
for a period of one thousand eight hundred years, 
we may find much to justify the hope that its influ- 
ence will be ultimately direct and decided in hasten- 
ing the period when all mankind shall be free. 

It would be wholly foreign to the design which I 
have in view, and would be a work which could not 
be accomplished in a volume of a few pages, to 


examine the general influence of the Christian church , 
on the subject of slavery; and it would be equally 
apart from my design to examine in detail the posi- 
tion of other denominations of Christians than the 
one with which I am connected. My main object is 
to inquire into the actual position of my own deno- 
mination in regard to slavery, and the particular duty 
of that branch of the church of Christ. Yet, as con- 
nected with the general subject, and as tending to 
correct some prevalent misapprehensions in regard 
to the influence of the church on this great evil, and 
to meet some of the aspersions which are quite freely 
lavished upon the church by its enemies, it may be 
proper to make a few remarks on the general influ- 
ence of the church on the subject. 

The following facts, then, I suppose, do not admit 
of dispute : — 

1. The spirit of the New Testament is against 
slavery, and the principles of the New Testament, 
if fairly applied, would abolish it. In the New 
Testament, no man is commanded to purchase and 
own a slave; no man is commended as adding any 
thing to the evidences of his Christian character, or 
as performing the appropriate duty of a Christian, 
for ownins: one. Nowhere in the New Testament is 
the institution referred to as a good one, or as a de- 
sirable one. It is commonly — indeed, it is almost 
universally — conceded that the proper application of 
the principles of the New Testament would abolish 
slavery everywhere, or that, in the state of things 
which will exist when the gospel shall be fairly ap- 
plied to all the relations of life, slavery will not be 
found among those relations. This is admitted even 


by most of those who apologize for slavery, and who, 
at other times, speak of it as on the same basis as 
the relation of husband and wife, or of master and 
apprentice. [Moreover, it has not been often alleged 
by the enemies of Christianity that the New Testa- 
ment sustains and sanctions slavery ; that its spirit 
would be opposed to emancipation ; or that the fair 
application of the gospel in the world would extend 
and perpetuate the system. There have been, and 
there are, keen-sighted and sagacious enemies of the 
Christian religion ; there have been those who have 
had every disposition to show, if possible, that its 
influence in the world is evil; but it has not often 
occurred, so far as I know, that they have made 
it an objection to Christianity that its spirit was 
favourable to slavery, or that its fair application in 
the world would tend to perpetuate and extend it. 
Neither Celsus, Porphyry, nor Julian urged this as 
an objection to the New Testament; nor have the 
keen and sagacious enemies of Christianity in more 
modern times alleged that they have discovered that 
slavery was either originated by Christianity or that 
it lends its sanction to the system. If the question 
were submitted to any number of intelligent and 
impartial men whether the spirit of the New Tes- 
tament is adverse to or favourable to slavery, and 
whether the fair application of the principles of the 
New Testament would perpetuate slavery or abolish 
it, it is presumed that on these points there would 
be no material difference of opinion. This conclu- 
sion would seem to be confirmed by the facts just 
adverted to, — that infidels have never made it an' 
objection to the Xew Testament that it countenances 


or would perpetuate slavery, and that it is admitted, 
by even those who attempt to apologize for the sys- 
tem, that the fair application of Christianity would 
remove it from the world.* 

2. The general course of the Christian church 
has been against slavery. This was undeniably 
true in the early history of the church. I know 
not that it has ever been alleged that any of the 
prominent defenders of the Christian faith among 
the < fathers' were advocates of slavery, or that 
any decree of synods or councils can be adduced in 
favour of the system. The influence of Chris- 
tianity, also, on slavery in the Roman empire is well 
known. Christianity found slavery everywhere ex- 

* The only exception to these remarks -which I recollect to have 
ever met with is the case of Professor Francis William Newman, in his 
work on the " Phases of Faith," in assigning his reasons for renounc- 
ing his early opinions and rejecting the Bible as a revelation. One of 
those reasons for his change of views (and the passage deserves to be 
quoted as illustrating and confirming the remark which I have made, 
that an appeal to the Bible as sustaining slavery tends to promote 
infidelity) is that the New Testament sanctions slavery, and is, in 
fact, the stronghold of those who defend the accursed sj'stem. 

The passage in the "Phases of Faith" (pp. 166-167) in which this 
occurs is the following: — "Undue credit has been claimed for Christi- 
anity as the foe and extirpator of slavery. Englishmen of the nine- 
teenth century boldly denounce slavery as an immoral and abominable 
system. There may be a little fanaticism in the fervour which this 
sometimes assumes ; but not one of the Christian apostles ever opens 
his lips at all against slavery. Paul sent back the fugitive Onesimus 
to his master Philemon, with kind recommendations and apologies for 
the slave, but without a hint to the master that he ought to make him 
legally free. At this day, in consequence, the New Testament is the argu- 
mentative stronghold of those in the United States who are trying to h ep 
up the accursed system." For an answer to this, the reader may refer 
to the "Defence of the Eclipse of Faith," pp. 159, et seq. 


isting; it introduced it nowhere. By a gradual 
but certain process it meliorated the system as it 
existed, and was among the most efficient causes of 
its being ultimately abolished in the Roman em- 
pire.* While there may have been a gradual ten- 
dency toward freedom in the opinions of the world, 
yet there can be no doubt that this was fostered, 
if not originated, by the prevalence of Christianity; 
and that when the time occurred, as it did, when 
slavery ceased to exist in what had been the Roman 
empire, one of the main causes which led to this 
was the silent influence of the Christian religion. 

3. Efforts for emancipation have occurred usually 
in close connection with the Christian church, and 
under the influence of Christian men. The efforts 
which were made in England, and which resulted 
in emancipation throughout the British empire, were 
commenced and conducted under the influence of 
Christian men, — not of mere statesmen ; not of infi- 
dels. Clarkson and "Wilberforce and Buxton were 
Christian men ; William Penn was a Christian ; 
and all that has been done in the cause by 
the society of Friends has been originated by the 
fact that they regard the system as opposed to 
the gospel. "Without any fear of contradiction, it 
may be affirmed that the efforts which have been 
made in the world to break the fetters of slavery; to 
suppress the slave-trade ; and to give to all persons 
held in bondage the blessings of freedom, have 
been owing mainly to the influence of Christians, 

* For proof of this I may be permitted to refer to my work on the 
" Scriptural Views of Slavery," pp. 368-372. 


and that if it had not been for their influence 
those efforts would not have been made. The 
rejecters of the Bible have not been the movers in 
this cause; nor out of the church has there ever 
been enough power, under the mere promptings of 
humanity, to induce men to abandon the slave-traffic 
or to set the oppressed free. Whatever aid such 
men may have rendered to the cause, the mov- 
ing power has always come originally from the 
bosom of the church : — from the silent influence of 
Christianity on the hearts of many men, or from the 
untiring energy, the tact, the eloquence, the self- 
denial, of some distinguished leader or leaders in 
the cause of emancipation, who have been made 
what they were by the power of the gospel of 

4. It is true, also, that the great body of Chris- 
tians in this land, and in all other lands, are op- 
posed to slavery. It is not true that the authority 
of the best Christian writers can be adduced in 
favour of the system ; nor is it true that the mass 
of Christians and of Christian ministers in the 
world are the advocates of slavery. A very large 
majority of Christians in this land own no slaves, 
and are, on principle, opposed to the owning of 
slaves. The whole number of slave-holders in the 
United States does not amount to four hundred 
thousand; and of these a small portion only are 
professors of religion. ~Not a few of those also 
who are slave-holders profess to be opposed to the 
system, and express a desire to be delivered from it. 
They see its evils and wrongs ; they would not favour 
its introduction if it were not already in existence; 


they endeavour to meliorate the condition of the 
slave; and they would sincerely rejoice if, consist- 
ently, as they suppose, with the best interests of 
the slaves themselves, they could all be made free. 
"While they perceive difficulties in the way of eman- 
cipation, which to them appear insuperable at 
present, and which they see no prospect of being 
able soon to overcome, they feel the system to 
be a burden, — a burden to themselves, a burden to 
the slave. Not a few are so oppressed with this 
state of things that they leave the slave States, and 
emigrate to States where freedom prevails ; and not 
a few more would, if we may credit their own testi- 
mony, rejoice if all that dwell in the land were free. 
The men who are connected with the church who 
openly advocate the system of slavery, and who 
would wish to make it perpetual, are comparatively 
few in number; and it is not a little remarkable 
that the apologists for slavery are not always those 
who are connected with the system, but men who sus- 
tain no relation to it whatever, and who voluntarily 
become advocates for a system which they who are 
connected with it regard as an unmitigated curse. 
Such men deserve no thanks from the world ; and 
they receive no thanks from those who are suffering 
under the evils of the system, and who sigh for the 
day when they may be wholly delivered from it. 

There is much indeed to lament in the feelings 
entertained in the church on the subject. There 
is much indifference to the evils of the system. 
There is much that pains the heart of philanthropy 
when we reflect how many there are, in the aggre- 
gate, in the church who apologize for the evil; 


much to lament in the fact that there are any pro- 
fessed Christians who are holders of slaves. But, 
still, the church does not deserve unmitigated de- 
nunciation. The church, as such, is not the ' bul- 
wark of slavery;' the church, as such, is not the 
advocate for slavery; the church, as such, is not 
the apologist for slavery. The whole society of 
Friends is detached from it, and their sentiments 
are well known to the world. One-half of the 
Methodist church in this country, and the whole of 
the Methodist denomination abroad, is opposed to 
slavery. All the branches, it is believed, of the 
Scotch church are opposed to the system. The 
German churches are equally opposed to it; the 
great body of Congregationalists are opposed to it, 
and their influence is that of decided hostility to it. 
The churches abroad — the Established church and 
the Dissenting churches in England; the two great 
bodies of the Presbyterian churches, and all the 
smaller bodies of Presbyterians in Scotland; the 
Presbyterians in Ireland, and all the churches on the 
Continent, so far as any expression of opinion has 
been made, are opposed to the system. Not a few 
of these foreign Christians, with entire propriety, 
utter a loud voice of remonstrance and appeal to 
their transatlantic brethren, and urge upon them, in 
language which cannot be misunderstood, the duty 
of detaching themselves entirely from the system, 
and assuming, in regard to it, the position occupied 
by the churches of other lands. 




With these general remarks on the relation 
of the church to slavery, I proceed to consider 
more particularly the position of the Presbyterian 
church in regard to the system. The questions to 
be considered are : — What have been the expressed 
sentiments of that church on the subject? What 
is its position, according to the fair interpretation 
of the sentiments which it has expressed, in respect 
to it? What is the legitimate tendency or bear- 
ing of the measures which it has taken in regard 
to slavery? What would be the result if its own 
expressed principles were carried out? And wha* 
is the duty of that church, and of the church at 
large, on the subject? 

A series of remarks will conduct us to correct 
conclusions in answer to these questions. 

In the great division which occurred in 1838, the 
'New-school' or 'Constitutional' Presbyterian church 
inherited the common sentiments of the whole Presby- 
terian church on this and on all other subjects. The 
'New-school' body was not a new church with a new 
organization ; but the one great church was ' divided' 



or l split* into two nearly equal parts, cacli portion 
of the great body inheriting the views, the doctrines, 
the influence, the 'prestige,' of the whole.* The doc- 

* This is the doctrine laid down on the subject by the Supreme Court 
of Pennsylvania. The exact legal relation of the two branches of the 
Presbyterian church will be seen from the decision in the case of The 
Presbyterian Congregation us. Johnston, as laid down by Chief- Justice 
Gibson. It is as follows : — [Tho italics and small capitals are mine.] 

"Now, Bince the foundation of this congregation an event has 
happened which the founders did not contemplate, and which would 
not have been provided for had it been foreseen. This was no less 
than a dismemberment of the Presbyterian body, not indeed by dis- 
organization of it or .'m entire reduction of it to its primitive' elements, 
but by an excision, constitutional though it was, of whole Bynods with 
tlnir presbyteries ami congregations. There was not merely a seces- 
sion of particles, leaving the original mass entire, but the <iri<iin<il mass 
was split into two fraginents of nearly "/mil magnitude} and, though it 
was held by this court, in The Commonwealth vs. Green, 6 Whart. 
Bep, 581, that the party which happened to be in office by means of 

its numerical superiority at the time of t In* di\ ision was that which 
■was entitled to represent it and perform tho functions of tho original 
body, it was not because the minority were thought to be any thing else, 
than Presbyterians, but because a popular body is known only by its 
government or head. 

"That they differed from the majority in doctrine or discipline was 
not pretended, though it was alleged that they did not maintain tho 

Scriptural warrant of ruling elders. But the difference in this respect 

had been tolerated if not sanctioned by the Assembly itself, which, 

With full knowledge of it, had allowed the heterodox synods to gTOW 

up as part of the church, and it could not therefore have been viewed 

as radical or essential. 

■'We were called on, however, to pass, not on a question of heresy, 
for we would have been incompetent to decide it, but on the regularity 
of tho meeting at which the trustees wcro chosen. I mention this to 
show that we did not determine that the excision was expurgation, 
and not division. Indeed, the measure would seem to have been as 
decisively BEVOLUTIONABV. as would be an exclusion of particular 
(States from the Federal Union for the adoption of an anti-republican 
form of government. The excluded synods, gathering to thciuschis 


trine* of the one great hody became the doctrines 
of both: the history of the one was the history of 
both ; the names that had given lnstre to the Presl g - 
terian denomination in this land became names 
common to the history of both; the influence which 
the Presbyterian church had exerted in the promotion 
of education, liberty, and learning, in the founding 
of colleges, seminaries, and schools, in the establish- 
ment of American freedom, in planting churches in 
the wilderness, and in sending the gospel to heathen 
tribes, became the common inheritance of both. 
These things could not be divided. They could 
not be appropriated, in whole or in part, exclusively 
1 v either of the two great branches of the church. 
Property could be appropriated by one of the par- 
tics: and it was. Seminaries of learning, richly 

the disaffected in other quarters of the church, formed themselves into 
a distinct body, governed by a supreme judicatory, so like Us fellow as 
to pass for it* tivin-brother 3 and even to lay claim to the succession. 
That the Old-school party succeeded to the privileges and property 
of the Assembly was not I, muse it was more Presbyterian than the other, 
BUT BSCA1 -r IT WAS STRONGER; for, had it been the weaker, it would 
have been the party excluded, and the New-school party, exercising 
the government as it then had done, would have succeeded in its stead ; 
and thus the doctrine pressed upon us would have made title to ehureh- 
property the sport of accident. In that event, an attempt to deprive 
the Old-school congregations of their churches, for an act of the 
majority in withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the Assembly, would 
have loaded the New-school party with such a weight of popular odium 
as would have sunk it. Here then was the original mass divided into 
two part* of nearly equal magnitude and similar structure : ami what was 
a congregation in the predicament of the one before us to do ? It 
surely was not bound to follow the party which was successful in the 
conflict merely because superiority of numbers had given it the vic- 
tory." — 1 Watts and Sergeant?* R j>ort*, p. 9, per Gibson, in deliver- 
ing the opinion of the court, p. 88, 


endowed by the common toils and sacrifices of the 
whole church, could he appropriated by one of the 
parties ; and they were. Professorships, scholar- 
ships, libraries, edifices reared for sacred learning, 
and funds collected for the common use of the whole 
church, could thus be diverted from their original 
purpose and be made to subserve the interests of 
a part ; and they were thus diverted. But it was 
not thus with the '-prestige of the Presbyterian 
name ; not thus with the recorded virtues of the 
earlier labourers in the ministry; not thus with the 
influence that had gone out from the schools and 
colleges founded for the use of the common church ; 
not thus with the history of the revivals of religion 
with which God had blessed the earlier labourers in 
the great denomination. Whatever there was or is 
in the fame of the Tennents, of Davies, of \Vither- 
spoon, that has contributed to promote sound learn- 
ing and pure religion, or to make the church re- 
spected at home and honoured abroad, pertained 
alike to both. Up to the year 1838, the men who have 
presided over the General Assembly of the church 
belong to both divisions of the church; and they 
who stand by the graves of the Tennents, of Davies, 
or of Witherspoon, be they Old or New-school, have 
a common interest in their honoured names, and in 
the work which they did for promoting the cause 
of religion in the land. Property, though held in 
trust for common sacred uses, may be appropriated to 
the purposes of a party, but the fame of a common 
ancestry belongs to all ; and, whatever disposition there 
might be to appropriate that also, God has so con- 
structed society that that is incapable of being plun- 


dered or of being made to subserve the ends of 
schism, injustice, or revolution. 

As a part of this rich inheritance, the ' New-school' 
portion of the Presbyterian church received, in com- 
mon with the division now called the 'Old-school,' 
the recorded testimonies of the church on the sub- 
ject of slavery. Up to the time of the division in 
1838, the 'Xew-school' body is to be regarded as 
holding the same sentiment as the 'Old,' — the com- 
mon sentiment of the whole church. From that 
time the two branches into which the whole church 
was divided have taken each their own position 
before the world. The one has endeavoured to carry 
out, by a proper application to the subject, the prin- 
ciples avowed before by the whole body and which 
were the common inheritance of both ; the other 
has endeavoured to arrest the progress of opinion, to 
check all advances, to avoid all the proper applica- 
tion of those principles; and, so far as appears, to 
make slavery a permanent institution in the church. 
It is proper, therefore, now to inquire what was the 
position of the Presbyterian church before the divi- 
sion, on the subject. 

At a very early period in the history of this coun- 
try the attention of the Presbyterian church was 
directed to the subject of slavery, and the firm con- 
viction of that church in regard to the evil of the 
system, and the desirableness of universal emancipa- 
tion, was expressed without any ambiguity. 

Thus, before the General Assembly was consti- 
tuted, the Synod of Xew York and Philadelphia, 
in the year 1787, adopted the following resolu- 
tions : — 


"The Synod of New York and Philadelphia do highly 
approve of the general principles, in favour of universal 
liberty, that prevail in America, and of the interest which 
many of the States have taken in promoting the abolition of 
slavery; yet, inasmuch as men, introduced from a servile state 
to a participation of all the privileges of civil society without 
a proper education and without previous habits of industry, 
may be, in many respects, dangerous to the community : 
Therefore, they earnestly recommend it to all the members 
belonging to their communion to give those persons who are 
at present held in servitude such good education as may pre- 
pare them for the better enjoyment of freedom. And they, 
moreover, recommend that masters, whenever they find ser- 
vants disposed to make a proper improvement of the privilege, 
would give them some share of property to begin with, or grant 
them sufficient time and sufficient means of procuring by indus- 
try their own liberty at a moderate rate ; that they may thereby 
be brought into society with those habits of industry that may 
render them useful citizens : — and, finally, they recommend 
it to all the people under their care to use the most prudent 
measures, consistent with the interest and the state of civil 
society in the parts where they live, to procure, eventually, 
the final abolition of slavery in America." 

In the year 1818, the General Assembly adopted 
the following remarkable and well-known resolu- 
tions with entire unanimity : — 

"The General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, having 
taken into consideration the subject of slavery, think proper 
to make known their sentiments upon it to the churches and 
people under their care. 

"We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the 
human race by another as a gross violation of the most precious 
and sacred rights of human nature, as utterly inconsistent with 
the law of God which requires us to love our neighbour as 


ourselves, and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and 
principles of the gospel of Christ, which enjoin that ' all 
things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye 
even so to them.' Slavery creates a paradox in the moral 
system; it exhibits rational, accountable, and immortal beings 
in such circumstances as scarcely to leave them the power of 
moral action. It exhibits them as dependent on the will of 
others whether they shall receive religious instruction ; whether 
they shall know and worship the true God ; whether they shall 
enjoy the ordinances of the gospel ; whether they shall per- 
form the duties and cherish the endearments of husbands and 
wives, parents and children, neighbours and friends ; whether 
they shall preserve their chastity and purity, or regard the 
dictates of justice and humanity. Such are some of the con- 
sequences of slavery, — consequences not imaginary, but which 
connect themselves with its very existence. The evils to which 
the slave is always exposed often take place in fact and in 
their very worst degree and form ; and where all of them do 
not take place, as we rejoice to say that in many instances, 
through the influence of the principles of humanity and reli- 
gion on the minds of masters, they do not, still, the slave is 
deprived of his natural right, degraded as a human being, and 
exposed to the danger of passing into the hands of a master 
who may inflict upon him all the hardships and injuries which 
inhumanity and avarice may suggest. 

"From this view of the consequences, resulting from 
the practice into which Christian people have most incon- 
sistently fallen, of enslaving a portion of their brethren of 
mankind, — for 'God hath made of one blood all nations of 
men to dwell on the face of the earth,' — it is manifestly the 
duty of all Christians who enjoy the light of the present day, 
when the inconsistency of slavery, both with the dictates of 
humanity and religion, has been demonstrated, and is gene- 
rally seen and acknowledged, to use their honest, earnest, and 
unwearied endeavours to correct the errors of former times, 


and as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy reli- 
gion, and to obtain the complete abolition of slavery through- 
out Christendom, and if possible throughout the world. 

"We rejoice that the church to which we belong com- 
menced, as early as any other in this country, the good work 
of endeavouring to put an end to slavery, and that in the 
same work many of its members have ever since been, and 
now are, among the most active, vigorous, and efficient labour- 
ers. We do, indeed, tenderly sympathize with those portions 
of our church and our country where the evil of slavery has 
been entailed upon them; where a great, and the most vir- 
tuous, part of the community abhor slavery, and wish its ex- 
termination as sincerely as any others ; but where the number 
of slaves, their ignorance, and their vicious habits generally, 
render an immediate and universal emancipation inconsistent 
alike with the safety and happiness of the master and the slave. 
With those who are thus circumstanced, we repeat that we 
tenderly sympathize. At the same time, we earnestly exhort 
them to continue, and, if possible, to increase, their exertions 


to suffer no greater delay to take place in this mosi interesting 
concern than a regard to the public welfare truly and indis- 
pensably demands. 

11 The manifest violation or disregard of the injunction here 
given, in its true spirit and intention, ought to be considered 
as just ground for the -discipline and ct nsures of the church. 
And if it shall ever happen that a Christian professor, in our 
communion, shall sell a slave who is also in communion cud 
good standing with our church, contrary to his or her will and 
inclination, it ought immediately to claim the particular atten- 
tion of the proper church judicature ; and, unless there be such 
peculiar circumstances attending the case as can but seldom 
happen, it ought to be followed, without delay, by a suspcnsioii 
of the offender from all iheprivileges of the church till he repent 
and make all the reparation in his power to the injured party " 


Respecting this document, as showing what is the 
real position of the Presbyterian church on the sub- 
ject of slavery, I make the following remarks: — 

1. It was quite in accordance with the prevalent 
conviction at that time in regard to slavery. The 
language employed is perhaps stronger than that 
which was commonly used; but the general senti- 
ment is to be regarded as in accordance with the 
prevailing opinion of the time. So far as appears, 
the document had the unanimous approval of the 
committee who reported it ; and it is expressly stated 
(Minutes, p. 28) that it was ' unanimously adopted' 
by the Assembly. It does not appear even to 
have excited any opposition in debate ; nor is 
there any evidence that the sentiments embodied 
in the paper gave rise to any discussion. There is 
no evidence that it met with any opposition from 
any part of the church after the adjournment of the 
Assembly ; but it seems to have been as unanimously 
acquiesced in by the church at large as it had been 
by the Assembly. Xo presbytery or synod took 
action against it; no church uttered a word of 
remonstrance. It was received as expressing the 
settled convictions of the church on the subject; it 
was recorded in the minutes of the Assembly as a 
document too important to be disposed of by merely 
placing it on file ; it was subsequently published in 
the ' Digest' of the Assembly as among the docu- 
ments most important to be preserved and diffused 
through the church ; it has never been changed or 
modified, in a period of nearly forty years, either by 
the church when united or by either body since the 
division. It went forth to the world as expressing 


the unanimous conviction of the North and the South 
as represented in the Assembly on the subject, and 
with all the influence which could be given to a 
document from the name of the chairman of the 
committee who drafted it, and who, and for a quar- 
ter of a century afterward, exerted more influence 
in the Presbyterian church than any other man then 
living. It is the calm, deliberate, unanimous senti- 
ment of a grave body of Christian men representing 
the North and the South, and uttering a decided 
Christian conviction on the subject at a time when 
men had not learned to apologize for the evil, or to 
dilute and weaken a testimony against it by great 
zeal for the ' Union,' and by endeavouring to 
make a merit of ' conservatism.' 

2. These resolutions put the Presbyterian church 
on an elevated and honourable position in regard to 
the evil of slavery. It was a position then unoccu- 
pied by any other denomination of Christians except 
the society of Friends ; and, in respect to the clear- 
ness and firmness of the expressions respecting the 
evils of slavery, it was not surpassed by any of the 
declarations which had ever issued from that body. 
It is claimed in the very resolutions themselves, as a 
matter of felicitation, that the Presbyterian church 
had been among the foremost in bearing its testi- 
mony against slavery and in taking measures which 
contemplated its entire abolition. Thus, the com- 
mittee say, "We rejoice that the church to which we 
belong commenced, as early as any oilier in the country, 
the good work of putting an end to slavery." It 
was then no dishonour to be regarded as first in the 
work of universal emancipation ; it was no dis- 


honour to institute measures contemplating the ulti- 
mate removal of slavery from the land and world. 

3. The resolutions of the Assembly contemplated 
the entire removal of slavery, and are such as would 
now be charged with radical abolitionism. There is 
not one word of apology for the system ; there is no 
attempt made to show that it is a 'patriarchal' 
institution ; there is no appeal to the Bible as origi- 
nating or sustaining it; there is no hint that the 
apostles placed the relation of ' master and ser- 
vant' on the same basis as the relation of parent 
and child, master and apprentice, guardian and 
ward ; there is no intimation that the system is to 
be perpetual in the church or in the world; there is 
no saving clause in favour of the relation itself, 
while the abuses of the system only are attacked ; 
there is the most decided, absolute, and unqualified 
condemnation of tlie system itself, as evil, and only 
evil, — a system fraught with nothing but evil, — a 
system to be abolished as soon as it could be done. 
Thus, the Assembly says, " We regard the voluntary 
enslaving of one part of the human race by another 
as a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights 
of human nature, as utterly inconsistent with the law of 
God, and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and prin- 
ciples of the gospel of Christ" Again, they say, "It 
is manifestly the duty of all Christians who enjoy 
the light of the present day, to use their honest, 
earnest, and unwearied endeavours as speedily as 
possible to efface this blot on our holy religion, and to ob- 
tain the complete abolition of slavery throughout 
Christendom, and, if possible, throughout the world." 
So, again, they speak of their desire that all suitable 


exertion should be made " to effect a total aboli- 
tion of slavery." So, again, they speak of " the duty 
indisputably incumbent on all Christians to labour for its 


This language looks to the entire extinction of 
slavery — the complete emancipation of every slave 
— as the end to be contemplated ; and the purpose 
expressed by the Assembly could not be carried out 
except by universal emancipation. The aim, the 
tendency, the object, is abolitionism ; and the Assem- 
bly of 1818 was to all intents and purposes an aboli- 
tion Assembly. An assemblage of men in the Pres- 
byterian church, or in any other church, or uncon- 
nected with any church, which, should now adopt 
the same resolutions, would be characterized and 
would be extensively denounced as an abolition 
body; and if perchance there were members in such 
an assemblage from the slave-holding States, they 
would regard it as their duty to protest against such 
doctrines ; to write soothing letters to their churches, 
expressing their dissent from these doctrines, and 
apologizing for their remaining in connection with 
a body of men which held and promulgated such 
views. In neither branch of the Presbyterian 
church — perhaps in almost no other church in the 
land — could such resolutions now be carried unani- 
mously, or carried at all without solemn protests and 
warnings against the exciting and disorganizing ten- 
dencies of such doctrines. Yet these are the solemn, 
recorded, unrepealed, and unmodified doctrines of 
the Presbyterian church, Old-school and New, on the 
subject of slave ry. These sentiments have been be- 
fore the world for nearly forty years as the doctrine 


of the church on the subject. These are the prin- 
ciples which are now professedly held by both 
branches of the Presbyterian church. These, till 
repealed, constitute a proper basis for any action on 
the subject of slavery; and these would lead to, and 
would justify, a continued agitation of the subject 
until the conscience of the church should be so 
reached as wholly to detach itself from all con- 
nection with the system. The existence of slavery 
in the church is inconsistent with these avowed 
principles ; and consistency in either body will never 
be secured until these principles are carried out by 
universal emancipation. 

4. According to the principles involved in these 
papers of the Assembly, the holding of slaves is 
presumptive evidence of a man's not being in good 
standing in the church. That is, he cannot be con- 
templated as in the same position in this respect 
as the man who sustains the relation of parent or 
husband, or as the master of an apprentice. There 
is an implied censure — an expression of condemna- 
tion — on the man who sustains this relation. If he 
is to be regarded as in good standing, — as acting in 
that relation consistently with the Christian charac- 
ter, — it is for him to make out the case by showing 
that he sustains this relation by the necessity of the 
case; that he does not hold his slaves as property 
for the purpose of sale ; that he is making all rea- 
sonable and practicable efforts for their emancipa- 
tion ; that he contemplates their freedom, and that 
he is willing to avail himself of any practicable 
method of promoting it. A man who sustains the 
relation of parent, or husband, or master of an 


apprentice, is, so far as these relations are con- 
cerned, presumed to be in good standing in the 
church. There is, there can be, no presumption 
against it from this relation. In these resolutions 
of the Assembly there is no denunciation of the 
evils of those relations; no implication that there 
are any evils in those relations ; no exhortation to 
brine: those relations to an end. But the reference 
to slavery is of an entirely different character. How 
can he be regarded as in good standing in the 
church, in the same sense as in these relations, who 
is acting under a system, and is a participator in and 
a practical supporter of a system, which is declared 
to be " a gross violation of the most precious and sacred 
rights of human nature, as utterly inconsistent with the law 
of God, and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and 
-principles of the gospel of Christ'? Suppose these things 
to be affirmed of a man in any other respect: suppose 
that in reference to his commercial employments, or 
his profession, or his mode of living, or his domestic 
relations, it were affirmed of him that he was habit- 
ually acting in a way which was "a gross violation of 
the most precious and sacred rights of human nature, 
which was utterly inconsistent with the law of God, 
and which was totally irreconcilable with the spirit 
and principles of the gospel of Christ," assuredly his 
good standing in the church would not be a thing to 
be assumed as unquestioned as if this were of course 
consistent with the Christian character, but as a thing 
to be made out, if it could be, by denying the truth of 
this accusation, or by showing that the conduct 
charged on him, in the circumstances of the case, was 
so necessary as to make it consistent with the Christian 


name, — if that could be done. But suppose that he 
contemplated this as a permanent and established 
course of life: would the presumption be that his 
standing in the church was such that it could not 
with propriety be called in question, or would it be 
otherwise ? 

We are led to the same view of the matter by the 
statement in these resolutions, that "it is mani- 
festly the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light 
of the present day, when the inconsistency of sla- 
very both with the dictates of humanity and reli- 
gion has been demonstrated, and is generally seen 
and acknowledged, to use their honest, earnest, and 
unwearied endeavours as speedily as possible to efface 
this blot on our holy religion, and to obtain the complete 
abolition of slavery throughout Christendom, and, if pos- 
sible, throughout the world." Can it be supposed that 
a man who did not make this effort, — who intended 
to maintain a course of life which was declared to 
be "irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of 
the gospel of Christ," — who intended to do all that 
he could to perpetuate a relation which was declared 
to be a "blot on our holy religion," — or who in his 
own mind placed such a relation on the same basis 
as that of parent and child, master and apprentice, 
and ruler and subject, — was to be regarded as pre- 
sumptively in good standiug in the church? • What 
kind of a church would that be which should admit 
such a principle as this? Who would wish to join 
it ? Who would deem himself honoured by a con- 
nection with it ? And how far would such a church 
differ from a horde of banditti or an association of 
gamblers or pirates? Of such an association what 


more could be said than was said by the Assembly 
of 1818 of slavery ? And can it be believed that the 
Assembly which adopted these resolutions, and the 
Assemblies which have since given their sanction to 
them, meant to teach that a man who, of design and 
purpose, lent his own active co-operation to per- 
petuate a system which has been demonstrated and 
is generally seen and acknowledged to be ' incon- 
sistent both with the dictates of humanity and reli- 
gion,' and which is 'a blot on our holy religion,', to be 
regarded as in good and regular standing in the 
church of Christ ? 

5. It is clear, from these resolutions, that, in the 
apprehension of that Assembly, slave-holding may be- 
come a proper subject of discipline in the church. 
Thus, the resolutions affirm that, "if it shall ever 
happen that a Christian professor, in our communion, 
shall sell a slave who is also in communion and good 
standing in our church, contrarv to his or her will 
and inclination, it ought immediately to claim the 
particular attention of the proper church judicature; 
and, unless there be such peculiar circumstances at- 
tending the case as can but seldom happen, it ought 
to be followed, without delay, by a suspension of 
the offender from all the privileges of the church till 
he repent and make all the reparation in his power 
to the injured party."* It is, indeed, to be regretted 
that the Assembly did not include every case of sell- 
ing a slave, whether a member of the church or not, 
and that a distinction should have been even implied 
in regard to those who are and those who are not 

* Minutes of the Assembly of 1818, p. 33. 


members of the church, — as if that might he proper 
treatment toward one which would he sin against 
the other; but, still, the declaration is explicit that 
an act which is not uncommon in all slave States, 
and which may occur under the system anywhere, is 
a proper subject for discipline in the church, and 
should exclude from its communion. So the As- 
sembly says, "The manifest violation or disregard 
of the injunction here given" — the injunction to se- 
cure the kind 'treatment of slaves,' forbidding the 
i separation of husband and wife,' and 'selling 
slaves to those who will deprive them of the bless- 
ings of the gospel, or transport them to places where 
the gospel is not proclaimed, or where it is forbidden 
to slaves to attend upon its institutions' — "ought to 
be considered just ground for the discipline and 
censures of the church :" (p. 33.) And, moreover, is 
it not fairly implied, in these resolutions of the As- 
sembly, that the act of slave-holding, unless it can 
be made out to be a case of necessity or humanity, 
may properly be regarded as a subject of discipline 
in the church ? Can any man doubt that to pursue 
systematically and voluntarily any course of life, or 
to engage in any business, or to sustain any relation, 
either of which is ' a gross violation of the most pre- 
cious and sacred rights of human nature, which is 
utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which is 
totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles 
of the gospel of Christ, and which is a blot on our 
holy religion,' should subject an offender to the dis- 
cipline of the church? "What are proper subjects of 
discipline, if these things are not ? Where is the 
line to be drawn, if conduct such as this is not to be 



classed with ' offences' ? What may not exempt a 
man from the censures of the church, and from the 
exercise of its discipline, if such a course of life is to 
be regarded as exempt ? 

Such are some of the things implied in this re- 
markable act of the Assembly of the Presbyterian 
church. These resolutions have never been repealed 
by any act of the entire church when united, or by 
any act of either of the branches of the church since 
the division. Their propriety has never, by any 
public act, been called in question. They stand 
upon the records of the Presbyterian church ; they 
have been published in the 'Digests' containing 
documents regarded as of peculiar value ; they have 
been sent abroad to the world ; they committed the 
Presbyterian church to a well-defined course of 
policy and action. They belong, as the common 
inheritance, to both branches of the church. 
Whatever merit they may claim belongs to both 
those branches ; whatever obloquy they may be sup- 
posed to deserve belongs to one as much as to the 
other. Both branches of the church are committed 
to these views, and to whatever course of policy 
they may legitimately lead on this great subject. 




It is not my design to inquire whether the ' Old- 
school' have or have not been true to the resolu- 
tions of the Act of Assembly of 1818, and have 
taken the position before the world to which those 
resolutions would prompt; nor is it my design to in- 
quire whether the state of feeling in that branch of 
the church is of such a nature that those resolutions 
could now be adopted, or of such a nature that they 
would be a fair exponent of the views entertained 
in that branch of the church. With all kindness of 
feeling toward that denomination of Christians, it 
must be regarded by any reflecting man as a subject 
of felicitation that he . is not called on to vindicate 
the course pursued by that body on many other sub- 
jects than that of slavery, and that he is in circum- 
stances to make him in no wise responsible for many 
of their public acts. How long those resolutions 
shall be suffered to lie unnoticed in their minutes; 
how long it may be possible to stifle the feelings 
which, it is to be hoped, still linger in some portions 
of that body ; how long it may be consistent to repress 
all discussion in reference to evils so solemnly de- 
nounced, and which have in no wise been diminished 


since the adoption of these resolutions ; how long it 
may be proper for a large body of Christians to 
slumber over this stupendous evil, never even lifting 
a note of remonstrance or appeal on the subject, it 
is for them, subject to their responsibility to God, to 

Leaving that as a matter in no way pertaining to 
the portion of the church which they have separated 
from themselves, I propose now to show that the 
action of the New-school branch of the church 
is such as to evince, in good faith, a purpose to 
carry out those resolutions, and to secure, by all 
proper and constitutional means, the end contem- 
plated by them; — "as speedily as possible to efface 
this blot on our holy religion, and to obtain the 
complete abolition of slavery throughout Christen- 
dom, and, if possible, throughout the world;" or, 
in other words, that all the acts of that body on the 
subject are but a development of the principles in- 
volved in those resolutions. 

In reference to this, and as showing the true posi- 
tion of the ' New-school' Presbyterian church on the 
subject, I would make the following remarks: — 

1. The subject has been most freely discussed in 
the New-school General Assembly. No one sub- 
ject, from the time of the division of the church in 
1838, has been so frequently before the Assembly ; 
no one has been discussed more freely ; no one has 
called forth more entirely whatever wisdom there 
might be in the General Assembly to lead to some 
satisfactory result. If there has been at any time, 
and from any quarters, a disposition to suppress dis- 
cussion and action, it has been resisted by a strong 


and unambiguous voice of the church demanding 

that the subject should not be suppressed; if in any 
of the meetings of the Assembly from that time to 
the present it has been judged not proper then to 
discuss this subject, that course has been taken, not 
because it was the conviction of the church that the 
subject should not be discussed, but either because at 
that time some other subject seemed more particu- 
larly to demand the attention of the Assembly, or 
because- it was not apparent that any other step could 
be taken in advance of points which had been al- 
ready gained. In these discussions, continued now 
for nearly twenty years, every part of the church has 
been fully heard; every facility has been given for 
the fullest expression of opinion. The advocates of 
slavery — of whom there have been very few — have 
been heard with all the patience that they could de- 
sire ; and the members of the Assembly who have 
come from those portions of the church where sla- 
very prevails have heard the system denounced, and 
have listened to arguments to prove that it is con- 
trary to the Bible and fraught with innumerable 
evils to the bodies and souls of men, with a candour, 
a degree of patience, and a measure of Christian 
forbearance, which has greatly commended them to 
the confidence of their brethren ; which has shown 
that they were not insensible to the evils of the sys- 
tem; and which has shown that, while they could 
not agree with their brethren in sentiment, they 
could not be surpassed by them in Christian courtesy. 
The great principle was soon thoroughly settled after 
the division of the church, that, in the New-school 
portion of that body, the subject of slavery might be, 


and ought to be, discussed. At a time when there 
was every possible effort made to keep the subject 
out of the houses of Congress ; at a time when it 
was, in fact, excluded from nearly every other eccle- 
siastical body in the land, — the Methodist church 
being almost the only exception; at a time when 
Episcopalians, and Baptists, and Old-school Presby- 
terians, gloried that their churches were kept pru- 
dently and conservatively free from the intrusion of 
the agitating topic; and at a time when not a few 
of the ' Old-school' bod}' apparently hoped to make 
'capital' from the agitation of this subject by the 
portion of the church which they had ' excluded,' and 
when they watched with the keen, observing eye of 
prospective gain to have the New-school body fall to 
pieces under the discussion, and when they hoped to 
augment their own strength by attracting to them- 
selves the scattered fragments of the dissevered body ; 
■ — at that very time, and in view of all these perils, 
and under all the disadvantages of an imperfect or- 
ganization, the example has been set, year after year, 
in the General Assemblies of the New-school, of a 
most free, full, candid, and patient discussion of this 
agitating subj ect. Not a presbytery, not a church, not 
a man, as far as is known, North or South, has left 
the church in consequence of the discussion ; and, if 
they who from without have watched the discussion 
wuth the interest which men feel who are encouraged 
to hope that they will augment their own number 
by the divisions which occur in other bodies, never 
has there been an instance of more signal disappoint- 
ment than has occurred in this case. I state this, 
then, in relation to the actual position of the New- 


school body on this subject, that it is a point gained, 
and is not to be receded from, that the subject of 
slavery may be discussed in the church to any ex- 
tent which may be thought desirable ; and that, in 
fact, there is no other denomination of Christians in 
the land, not even the Congregational, where the 
subject has been so freely examined, or has called 
forth so much prayer and solicitude as to the course 
which should be pursued by the church. In this re- 
spect — in an honest effort to know what is true and 
right, to understand the real bearings of the sys- 
tem, to ascertain what is the exact power of the 
church in regard to the system — the New-school 
Presbyterian church is in advance of all the other 
churches of the land. It has freely discussed a sub- 
ject which it has been the boasted wisdom of others 
thus far to exclude from their councils ; it has frankly 
and fearlessly grappled with difficulties which they 
all have yet to meet. 

2. It is true, also, in regard to the New-school 
Presbyterian church, that in all the discussions 
which have been had on slavery, and in all the reso- 
lutions which have been adopted, the Act of 1818 
has neither been repealed, nor has there been any 
attempt to repeal it, nor has the propriety of the sen- 
timents contained in it ever been called in question. 
Not even in debate, it is believed, has the idea ever 
been advanced that the resolutions in that act did not, 
at the time of its adoption, fairly represent the opi- 
nions of the whole Presbyterian church, or that, since 
the division, they did not fairly express the views 
and define the position of the New-school portion 
of the church on the subject of slavery. Those reso- 


lutions are an inherited and an unrepealed part of 
the declared sentiments of the Presbyterian church ; 
and any action which would be a legitimate carrying 
out of these principles must be regarded as unques- 
tionably proper. 

3. The course pursued in the New-school portion 
of the church, since the division, has been but the 
proper carrying out of the principles involved in 
these resolutions, and has been, I may perhaps be 
able to show, all that could be done, as yet, under 
the constitution of the church. To show this, it 
may be proper to recall the successive steps in the 
action of the General Assembly, and then to inquire 
whether this does not indicate progress, — and, under 
the circumstances of the case, all the progress which 
up to the present time could be made in carrying 
out the resolutions of 1818. 

In 1839 — the year after the division of the church — 
the General Assembly of the Xew-school portion 
of the church, after a full discussion of the subject, 
adopted the following resolution : — ''Whereas, cer- 
tain memorials have been sent up to this Assembly 
from several presbyteries, desiring some action on 
the subject of slavery ; and whereas these memorials 
have been read and freely discussed by this body; 
and whereas this Assembly is made up of members 
from different portions of our extended country, who 
honestly differ in opinion as well in regard to the 
propriety as the nature of the ecclesiastical action 
desired in the case: therefore, Resolved, That this 
Assembly does most solemnly refer to the lower judi- 
catories the subject of slavery, leaving it to them to 
take such order thereon as in their judgment will be 


the most judicious and adapted to remove the ecll." 
(Minutes of the Assembly for 1839, p. 22.) 

The following things are to be noticed in regard 
to this resolution. 

(a) It indicates an early purpose on the part of the 
church to consider the subject of slavery. But one 
year after the separation, while the church could as 
yet be scarcely regarded as organized, with all the per- 
plexities and responsibilities of the pending law-suit 
with the other portion of the church, with all that 
there might be in the circumstances of the church 
at that time that might seem to make it expedient 
not to agitate the subject of slavery, and with all the 
predictions that an agitation of the subject would 
again rend and divide the church, this subject was 
taken up as one of the most important that had a 
claim on the attention of the church, and in such a 
manner as to indicate a determined purpose to as- 
sume a right position on the subject, whatever might 
be the consequences to the church itself. 

(b) A course was pursued which was strictly Presby- 
terian and strictly proper. It was to refer the matter 
to 'the lower judicatories,' — meaning particularly, 
undoubtedly, the synods, presb}~teries, and sessions in 
the portion of our country where slavery exists. It 
was felt that the matter pertained primarily to them ; 
that the proper action should begin with them; that 
the subject was one in which they had a special inte- 
rest, and which it was supposed they would be best 
qualified to understand ; and it was presumed that 
they icould take such 'action' in the case as might 
prevent the necessity of bringing the matter again 
before the General Assembly, or make it a subject 


of general agitation in the church. But, whatever 
might be the result, — whatever might be the disposi- 
tion of the 'lower judicatories' — the sessions, presby- 
teries, and synods — in regard to the matter, — it was 
clearly in accordance with the Constitution of the 
church, and with Christian propriety, that the subject 
shouldhe referred to them in the first instance, in order 
that they might in a regular and constitutional way 
endeavour to carry out the principles of the church on 
the subject, and devise some efficient method for de- 
taching the church from all connection with slavery. 

(c) The subject that was left to the l lower judica- 
tories' was perfectly defined. It was, in the words 
of the resolution, to "take such action as, in their 
judgment, would be most judicious and best adapted 
to remove the evil." The removal of the evil — in other 
words, in the language of the resolutions of 1818, 
"the entire abolition of slavery" — was the end contem- 
plated, and the only end. To this end, and this 
alone, iu a proper and judicious manner, the atten- 
tion of the 'lower judicatories' was directed. There 
is no suggestion that the institution is designed to 
be permanent ; no intimation that it is a ' patriarchal' 
institution, or that it is an institution that is in any 
way sanctioned and sustained by the Bible ; no hint 
that it is on the same level as the relation of husband 
and wife, or parent and child: — it is an '•evil; an 
evil not to be perpetuated, but 'removed.' This was 
undoubtedly the view of the Assembly in 1839, — 
the earliest period in which the New-school Assembly 
could act on the subject, or in which it could declare 
the views of the church. 

In the General Assembly of 1840, the subject of 


slavery was again introduced, and occupied a consi- 
derable part of four days of the session, and was then, 
apparently in view of the action of the previous As- 
sembly, and the difficulty of agreeing on any new 
measure better adapted to "remove the evil," in- 
definitely postponed. The fact, however, that the 
subject occupied so large a portion of the time of the 
Assembly, shows that it was one which excited deep 
interest in the church, and was one which the As- 
sembly was not disposed to exclude from solemn and 
anxious consideration. 

The New-school Assembly, then triennial, met 
again in 1843. The subject again occupied the at- 
tention of the Assembly for a considerable part of 
three days of the session. After a full discussion, 
the Assembly adopted the following resolution: — 
"Whereas, there is in this Assembly great diversity 
of opinion as to the proper and best mode of action 
on the subject of slavery; and whereas, in such cir- 
cumstances, any expression of sentiment would carry 
with it but little weight, as it would be passed by a 
small majority and must operate to produce aliena- 
tion and division ; and whereas the Assembly of 1839, 
with great unanimity, referred this whole subject to 
the lower judicatories, to take such order as in their 
judgment might be adopted to remove the evil: 

" Resolved, That the Assembly do not think it for 
the edification of the church, for their body to take 
any action on the subject." (Minutes of the As- 
sembly for 1843, pp. 18, 19.) 

It is necessary to remark only on this action of the 
Assembly, — 

(a) That the fact that the subject was again so fully 


discussed shows the deep interest which the church 
took in the subject. 

(b) That the same object was contemplated which 
had beeu avowed in 1818,— the ' entire abolition' of 
slavery in the church :— " Such order as in their judg- 
ment might be adapted to remove the evil" — not the 
< evils' of slavery, or the abuses of the system, but 
the ' eviV itself, or the system as evil. 

(c) This judgment of the Assembly seems to have 
been decided and harmonious: as no one, amidst the 
diversity of views about the proper mode of reaching 
the evil, even seems to have called in question the 
fact that it was an evil, and an evil ' to be removed.' 

The General Assembly again met in 1816, and 
took still more decided action in regard to slavery, 
showing what was the prevalent feeling on the subject 
in the church, and indicating decided progress in the 
development of the principles before laid down. In 
that year they adopted, by a vote of ninety-two to 
twenty-nine, the following important paper: — 

" 1. The system of slavery, as it exists in these United States, 
viewed either in the laws of the several States which sanction 
it, or in its actual operation and results in society, is intrinsi- 
cally an unrighteous and oppressive system, and is opposed to 
the prescriptions of the law of God, to the spirit and precepts 
of the gospel, and to the best interests of humanity. 

" 2. The testimony of the General Assembly, from a.d. 1787 
to 1818, inclusive, has condemned it; and it remains still the 
recorded testimony of the Presbyterian church of these United 
States against it, from which we do not recede. 

"3. We cannot therefore withhold the expression of our 
deep regret that slavery should be continued and countenanced 
by any of the members of our churches; and we do earnestly 


exhort both them, and the churches among whom it exists, to 
use all means in their power to put it away from them. Its 
perpetuation among them cannot fail to be regarded by multi- 
tudes, influenced by their example, as sanctioning the system 
portrayed in and maintained by the statutes of the several 
slave-holding States wherein they dwell. Nor can any mere 
mitigation of its severity, prompted by the humanity and 
Christian feelings of any individuals who continue to hold 
their fellow-men in such bondage, be regarded either as a tes- 
timony against the system, or as in the least degree changing 
its essential character. 

"4. But, while we believe that many evils, incident to the 
system, render it important and obligatory to bear testimony 
against it, yet would we not undertake to determiue the de- 
gree of moral turpitude on the part of individuals involved 
by it. This will doubtless be found to vary in the sight of 
God, according to the degree of light and other circumstances 
pertaining to each. In view of all the embarrassments and 
obstacles in the way of emancipation interposed by the statutes 
of the slave-holding States, and by the social influence affect- 
ing the views and conduct of those involved in it, we cannot 
pronounce a judgment of general and promiscuous condemna- 
tion, implying that destitution of Christian principle and feel- 
ing which should exclude from the table of the Lord all who 
stand in the legal relation of masters to slaves, or justify us 
in withholding our ecclesiastical and Christian fellowship from 
them. We rather sympathize with and would seek to succour 
them in their embarrassments, believing that separation and 
secession among the churches and their members are not the 
methods that God approves and sanctions for the reformation 
of his church. 

"b. While, therefore, we feel bound to bear our testimony 
against slavery, and to exhort our beloved brethren to remove 
it from them as speedily as possible, by all appropriate and 
available means, we do at the same time condemn all divisive 


and schisruatical measures tending to destroy the unity and 
disturb the peace of our churches, and deprecate the spirit of 
denunciation, and that unfeeling severity which would cast 
from the fold those whom we are rather bound, by the spirit 
of the gospel and the obligations of our covenant, to instruct, 
to counsel, exhort, and try to lead in the ways of God, and 
toward whom, even though they may err, to exercise forbear- 
ance and brotherly love. 

" 6. As a court of our Lord Jesus Christ, we possess no legis- 
lative authority; and as the General Assembly of the Presby- 
terian Church, we possess no judiciary authority. "We have 
no right to institute and prescribe tests of Christian character 
and church-membership not recognised and sanctioned in the 
Sacred Scriptures and in our standards, by which we have 
agreed to walk. *\Ye must, therefore, leave this matter with 
the sessions, and presbyteries, and synods, — the judicatories 
to whom pertains the right of judgment, — to act in the ad- 
ministration of discipline as they ma}' judge it to be their 
duty, constitutionally subject to the General Assembly only in 
the way of general review and control." 

Of this important paper it seems proper to make 
the following remarks. 

(a) It was adopted after the most free and full dis- 
cussion that this subject, or perhaps any other, had 
ever had in the General Assembly. At an early 
period of the session of the Assembly it was resolved, 
in order to give the fullest opportunity for an expres- 
sion of opinion, that the roll be called, " that each 
member may have an opportunity of expressing his 
opinion on the general subject." (Minutes, p. 15.) 
From the minutes of the Assembly it appears that 
the subject occupied the attention of the Assembly, 
almost to the exclusion of every other subject, for 
twelve sessions of the Assembly that year, and they 


who were present on that occasion know w T ell that 
the most ample range was given in the debate, and 
that the most free opportunity was allowed for an 
expression of opinion. There has been no ecclesias- 
tical meeting in our country w T here the subject of 
slavery has received so full a discussion, or where so 
large a portion of its time has been occupied in con- 
sidering the subject. It is probable, indeed, that the 
subject has never in this country received so full a 
discussion as it did in that Assembly. It will be re- 
membered, also, that though an earnest it was not 
an angry discussion ; and though, of course, there 
was diversity of opinion, yet there was no rupture 
of the church, or alienation of feeling, as the result 
of the discussion. 

(b) The resolutions affirm and adopt the previous 
action of the Assembly as expressing the views then 
entertained on the subject. Particularly the resolu- 
tions affirm that the "testimony of the General As- 
sembly from 1787 to 1818 remains still the recorded 
testimony of the Presbyterian church in these United 
States against it, from which we do not recede" 

(c) The resolutions of the Assembly of 1846 are 
but a proper development of the principles before laid 
down and affirmed by the Presbyterian church. 
There is nothing, it is presumed it will be admitted, 
in those resolutions wmich the previous action of the 
church would not suggest, or to which that action 
would not give rise if the principles before adopted 
were properly developed. Indeed, so far as appears, 
it was not made a ground of objection to these reso- 
lutions that they did not fairly coincide wdth the 
previous positions taken by the Assembly on the 


subject. In neither of the protests recorded against 
the action of the Assembly* is it alleged that there 
was any departure from the previous action of the 
Presbyterian church, or that the principles before 
laid down had not been fairly carried out in the 
paper adopted by the Assembly. The protests are 
placed wholly on different grounds ; — one stating two 
reasons for protesting, to wit: first, "because the} r , 
the protestants, think it inexpedient that the Gene- 
ral Assembly should take any action whatever on 
the subject of slavery, — the General Assembly hav- 
ing at its last session expressed such an opinion as 
the subject merited; and, in the next place, because 
they do not believe that slavery, as existing in the 
Southern States, is forbidden by the laws of God, 
and the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as 
revealed in his Holy Word;" — the other stating that 
the paper adopted by the Assembly, in the opinion 
of the protestant, "teaches that in every case some 
degree of moral turpitude attaches to every one who 
holds a slave; and that he ought to be regarded and 
treated as a subject of discipline, to be instructed, 
counselled, and exhorted as a delinquent." In nei- 
ther case is exception taken because the action of 
the Assembly was supposed to be contrary to any 
of the judgments of the church before expressed. 

(d) These resolutions of the Assembly, like all 
that went before, speak of slavery as an evil, and 
look to its final and complete extinction as the ob- 
ject to be contemplated and aimed at. They are 

* There were two protests, one signed by five members of the As- 
sembly, the other by only one. 


in the line of the acts of 1818, and. like these acts, aim 
at the entire abolition of slavery, and in no respect 
place slavery on the same level with the relation 
of husband and wife, parent and child, guardian 
and ward. Thus, the resolutions of the Assembly 
say, "The system of slavery, as it exists in these 
United States, viewed either in the laws of the seve- 
ral States which sanction it, or in its actual operation 
and results in society, is intrinsically an unright- 
eous and oppressive system, and is opposed to the pre- 
scriptions of the law of God, to the spirit and pre- 
cepts of the gospel, and to the best interests of hu- 
manity." Thus, they say, "We cannot withhold the 
expression of our deep regret that slavery should be 
continued and countenanced by any of the members of our 
churches, and w T e do earnestly expect both them, and 
the churches among whom it exists, to use all means 
in their power to put it away from them." And, sup- 
posing that this may be a proper subject of disci- 
pline, they add, "As a court of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
we possess no legislative authority ; and as the Ge- 
neral Assembly of the Presbyterian church, we pos- 
sess no judiciary authority. We must, therefore, 
leave this matter with the sessions, and presbyteries, 
and synods, — the judicatories to whom pertains the 
right of judgment, — to act in the administration of 
discipline as they may judge to be their duty, consti- 
tutionally subject to the Assembly only in the way 
of general review and control." 

It is manifest from this that the Assembly re- 
garded the fact of slave-holding as furnishing prima 
facie a proper ground of discipline ; and the whole 

spirit of the resolutions goes to show that if it was 

i 1 


not, in any case, a proper subject of discipline, it was 
to be proved in that particular case not to be, and not 
to be assumed that it was not. Resolutions like 
these could never have been proposed or adopted in 
reference to the relations of husband and wife, parent 
and child, guardian and ward ; and it is clear that 
between those relations and the relations of slavery 
the Assembly saw no resemblance. In the estima- 
tion of the Assembly the relations of slavery were 
not to be perpetuated as desirable in society, and as 
consistent with the spirit of the gospel, but as at war 
with both, and as ' intrinsically unrighteous and oppres- 
sive' in all its bearings. 

In 1849 the sentiments of the Assembly were again 
expressed in a manner not less decisive. After re- 
ferring the subject to a committee, and after a full 
consideration of the subject, the Assembly adopted 
a series of resolutions, the import of which will be 
seen by the following extracts : — 

"1. Resolved, That we reaffirm the sentiments expressed 
by the Assembly of 1815, and especially in the following quo- 
tations : — 

'"The General Assembly have repeatedly declared their 
cordial approbation of those principles of civil liberty which 
seem to be recognised by the Federal and State Governments 
in the United States. They have expressed their regret that 
the slavery of the Africans and of their descendants still con- 
tinues in so many places, and even among those within the 
pale of the church, and have urged the presbyteries under 
their care to adopt such measures as will secure, at least to the 
risingr generation of slaves within the bounds of the church, a 
religious education, that they may be prepared for the exercise 


and enjoyment of liberty, when God in his providence may 
open a door for their emancipation/ 

"2. Resolved, That this General Assembly reaffirm the 
opinions expressed by the General Assembly of 1818. 

"3. Resolved, That we reaffirm the 'Declaration of the 
General Assembly on the subject of slavery/ made in the 
year 1846. 

"The following principles are clearly stated in the docu- 
ments above referred to and quoted : — 

"1. That civil liberty is the right of man, as a rational and 
moral being. 

"2. That the institution of slavery, in the language of a 
former Assembly, 'is intrinsically an unrighteous and oppres- 
sive system/ and injurious to the highest and best interests of 
all concerned in it. 

"3. That it is ' the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light 
of the present day/ 'to use their honest, earnest, and un- 
wearied endeavours' 'as speedily as possible to efface this blot 
on our holy religion, and to obtain the complete abolition of 
slavery throughout Christendom, and, if possible, throughout 
the world.' This General Assembly do most solemnly exhort 
all under our care to perform this duty, and to be ever ready 
to make all necessary sacrifices in order to effect a consumma- 
tion so much to be desired." 

In reference to the action of the Assembly here 
referred to, it may be observed that there is no re- 
trocession from any of the views wdiich former As- 
semblies had expressed on the subject; that all that 
former Assemblies had affirmed in regard to the 
evils of the system are again reaffirmed and re- 
adopted as expressing the sentiments of the church ; 
and that the same ultimate object is still contem- 
plated, — the entire abolition of slavery. Thus, after stat- 


ing, in the language of a former Assembly, that it is 
"the duty of all Christians who enjoy the light of 
the present day, to use their honest, earnest, and un- 
wearied endeavours as speedily as possible to efface 
this blot on our holy religion, and to obtain the 
complete abolition of slavery throughout Christen- 
dom, and, if possible, throughout the world," the As- 
sembly adds, "The General Assembly do most solemnly 
exhort all under our care to perform this duty, and be 
ever ready to make all necessary sacrifices to effect a con- 
summation so much to be desired." The sentiments 
and aims here expressed are in the line of all the 
measures adopted by the church in former years. 
The system is regarded and treated as evil. The 
end contemplated is its abolition. The duty of the 
church, as expressed, lies in that direction, and can 
only terminate on that. There are no such expres- 
sions in regard to the system as there would be in 
reference to the relation between husband and wile, 
parent and child, guardian and ward. There is no 
intimation that it is understood to be a ' patriarchal' 
institution, that it has the sanction of the Bible, or 
that it is intended to be perpetual in the church. 
It is evident that there is but one thing that would 
be a proper carrying out of the views of the Assem- 
bly, and that is, the entire removal of slavery from 
the church, — its entire abolition in the world. 

In the year 1850, the General Assembly, at De- 
troit, adopted still more decided resolutions on 
the subject of slavery. After a very full discus- 
sion the following preamble and resolutions were 
adopted : — 


" That, after a careful and thorough examination of the 
whole subject, they have been brought to the conclusion, 
that, in consideration of the previous action of the Assembly, 
had at different times for a series of years, and what they 
believe to be its present sentiments and the expectation of 
the churches in its connection, the cause of truth and 
righteousness, of peace and unity, will be best subserved by 
the adoption of the following resolutions : — 

" We exceedingly deplore the working of the whole system 
of slavery as it exists in our country and is interwoven with 
the political institutions of the slave-holding States, as 
fraught with many and great evils to the civil, political, and 
moral interests of those regions where it exists. 

" The holding of our fellow-men in the condition of slavery, 
except in those cases where it is unavoidable, by the laws of 
the State, the obligations of guardianship, or the demands 
of humanity, is an offence in the proper import of that term, 
as used in the Book of Discipline, chap. i. sec. 3, and 
should be regarded and treated in the same manner as other 

" The sessions and presbyteries are, by the Constitution of 
our church, the courts of primary jurisdiction for the trial 
of offences. 

" That, after this declaration of sentiment, the whole subject 
of slavery, as it exists in the church, be referred to the ses- 
sions and presbyteries, to take such action thereon as in their 
judgment the laws of Christianity require." 

In reference to these resolutions it may be re- 
marked, — 

(a) That the sentiments of the Assembly, as ex- 
pressed ' for a series of years,' are adopted as ex- 
pressing 'the present sentiments' of the church, 
and as laying the foundation for what was sup- 


posed to be demanded as additional action by the 

(b) That the whole system was referred to as an 
evil to be deplored. 

(c) But especially a new position was assumed, — 
a new point was advanced, — in the line indeed of all 
the previous decisions of the Assembly, and the 
consistent development of all the former views ex- 
pressed : — that the holding of men in slavery, ex- 
cept in certain specified cases, is an i offence' in 
the proper and technical sense of the term ; that is, 
is an act subjecting the offender to discipline, — an 
' offence' to be treated as all other ' offences' are 
which are regarded as against the word of God. 

The exceptional cases referred to are three in 
number: — (1) AVhen by the laws of the state it is 
impossible to emancipate slaves ; (2) when they 
are held merely under the obligation and relations 
of 'guardianship;' and (3) when the circumstances 
are such that the laws of 'humanity' — that is, in 
reference to the best interests of the slave — would 
forbid emancipation. In every case of slave- 
holding, therefore, it is supposed that the holder 
of the slave should be able to show that in that 
particular case it is proper that the slave should not 
be emancipated, or that it is an impracticable thing 
to do it. This is the same as to say that a case of 
ordinary slave-holding — or the holding of a fellow- 
man as a slave — is supposed to constitute an 'of- 
fence;' and that an obligation rests on the holder of 
a slave, in any case, to show that Ms act in holding 
him can be referred to one of those three specified 
reasons. If this cannot be done, he is presumed 


to be guilty of an ' offence ; that is, of an act which 
subjects him to the proper discipline of the church. 
In other words, the holding of a slave is presumed 
to be of that class of actions which properly sub- 
jects a man to the discipline of the church ; not of 
that class — as the relation of husband and wife, or 
parent and child — which implies no 'prima facie pre- 
sumption against the person who sustains the 

It is very manifest that the exceptional cases re- 
ferred to would comprehend but a small proportion 
of the owners of slaves in this country. There are 
undoubtedly such cases ; and it is to be presumed 
that a larger proportion of such cases would be 
found among the members of the church who are 
slave-holders than could be found in any other 
class of persons. But still it is to be presumed 
that but a small part of those who are slave- 
holders in the church would claim that their cases 
came under these exceptions, or would allege that 
they held slaves, as such, on principles different 
from those which actuate other men sustaining this 
relation; and especially it is to be presumed that 
they who allege that the relation is a 'patriarchal' one, 
and that it is on the same basis as that of husband 
and wife and parent and child, — a relation recog- 
nised in the Bible as proper and permanent, — would 
not urge that, in this respect, they hold their slaves 
on different principles from those wdxich influenced 
others. They might perhaps allege that it is better 
for the slave in the present circumstances to be in 
this condition than to be free ; that he is incapable 
of taking care of himself; or that the general con- 


dition of the African race has been improved by 
being removed from a land of Pagan darkness to a 
land of Christian light, even though they are 
slaves. These would be different, and some of 
them certainly very questionable, positions ; but still 
only a small portion of slave-holders in the church, 
or out of it, it is presumed, would undertake to 
show that the reason why they are slave-holders is 
to be referred to either of the three specifications in 
the resolutions of the Assembly at Detroit. They 
would not allege that they became originally or 
continue to be slave-holders because it is ' un- 
avoidable by the laws of the State ;' for the cases 
are rare in which men cannot find some way of 
emancipating their slaves if they choose, since such 
acts of emancipation do occur where the 'laws of 
the State' are most stringent on the subject of 
emancipation. They would not allege that they 
became or continue to be slave-holders under the 
obligations and relations of ' guardianship;' for it is 
not common that the slave is so held as to be in any 
sense in that relation. And though there are cases 
where, against a man's own will, slaves are in- 
trusted to him for his children or for others, yet 
no one can be bound to assume the relation or to 
hold slaves even in trust for others ; and such cases 
are, in fact, too few almost to be taken into the 
estimate when considering the subject of slavery. 
They could not, in most cases, allege that they 
were held merely or mainly from l the demands of 
humanity ;' for that would not be true. There may 
indeed be such cases. An aged, infirm, worn-out 
6lave may be thus held. It would be cruel to allow 


him to be sold. ; it would be adding injustice to 
all the former wrongs done him to turn him off 
when his days have been spent in toiling for 
another and all his earnings have gone for the 
support of another, — that then, when from age, or 
sickness, or exhaustion of his strength, he is unable 
to labour .more, he should be left to be a burden 
upon a town, or abandoned to die of want. Every 
consideration of humanity demands that the mas- 
ter who has availed himself of the unrequited toil 
of such a man should not cast him off in his old 
age. But such cases are few. Such a reason would. 
rarely be alleged for holding a slave. The mass of 
slave-holders, even in the church, do not hold slaves 
for any such purpose. They do not bay them with 
such views ; they do not uphold the system on this 
plea. They hold slaves, as other men do, to avail 
themselves of their service; they hold them, sub- 
ject to the same conditions by which they are held 
by others ; they hold them under the same system 
of laws ; they hold them as others do, when they 
would be liable to be disposed of as jwojmiy, in the 
same way as other property. And, even if it should 
be alleged that it is more 'humane' to retain them in 
this condition than it would be to emancipate them, 
— a point, however, which should not be assumed to 
be true, — still, this is not the reason why they are 
held. This was not the reason why they came 
into possession of them. This would not be the 
reason why, if some perfectly practicable plan were 
proposed for their emancipation, they would not 
embrace it. This is not the reason assigned for 
continuing the relation, when it is alleged that the 


institution is ' patriarchal,' and that it is repre- 
sented in the Scriptures as on the same basis as 
that of parent and child and husband and wife. It 
is, indeed, more ' humane' to sustain the relation 
of a husband than it would be to drive a wife from 
one's dwelling, or to compel her by ill-treatment to 
apply for a divorce ; it is more ' humane* for a 
father to treat his children in the manner that 
becomes that relation than it would be to compel 
them by harsh usage to fly from his dwelling and 
go forth unaided and friendless into the world; 
but still it may be presumed that this is not the 
reason which operates on the minds of most hus- 
bands and fathers in continuing those relations. 

It follows' from these views that the great body of 
those who sustain 'the relation of slave-holders in the 
church are, according to the resolutions of the As- 
sembly at Detroit, in such a condition as to make 
them liable to the charge of being guilty of 'an 
offence in the proper import of this term ;' that is, 
in such a condition as to make them liable to disci- 
pline in the same way as in the case of any other 
'offence' known to the Constitution of the Presby- 
terian church. This, I think, is undeniably the fair 
construction of that act; and for this opinion the 
Assembly must be regarded as responsible. It is 
indeed added, and with propriety, that the "sessions 
and presbyteries are, by the Constitution of the 
church, the courts of primary jurisdiction for the 
trial of offences ;" but it is presumed that they wUl 
take "such action on the subject as the laws of Chris- 
tianity require." 

In 1851 the subject of slavery again occupied the 


attention of the Assembly, when, after a full discus- 
sion, the following minute was adopted : — 

" The Assembly have reason to be thankful to divine Provi- 
dence for the wisdom and prudence vouchsafed to the last 
Assembly, in coming to conclusions on this vexed question 
which have so generally met with the acquiescence of the 
church at this crisis; and that it seems obviously our privi- 
lege and duty, at the present session, to leave the whole subject 
as it was placed by that action, and to devote our time to other 
subjects which demand attention; always praying that God 
will hasten on the day of universal freedom throughout our 
land and the world." 

Of this resolution it is only necessary to remark 
that it shows that the subject occupied the attention 
of the Assembly, and that there was a full concur- 
rence in the principles before established, indicating 
what were the policy and the aims of the church on 
the subject. 

In 1853 the subject was again discussed, and an 
important measure adopted, showing the deep in- 
terest which the church feels in the subject, and an 
earnest desire to remove the evil. 

This paper is as follows : — 

"The committee, to whom was referred the subject of 
slavery, respectfully report, that twelve memorials touching 
this grave matter, from various synods and presbyteries, have 
been put into their hands. Of these, eleven are from the 
North, praying the Assembly for further action, and asking for 
precise information in regard to the extent of the practice of 
slave-holding in our body, and in regard also to certain alleged 
a£°ravations of it, in the unchristian and cruel treatment of 

Do ' 

slaves. One is from the Soiith, complaining of unkindness 
and injustice on the part of many Northern brethren in charg- 


ing upon the memorialists practices of which they are not 
guilty, and in attributing to them motives which they utterly 
disclaim and abominate; protesting also against the continued 
agitation of this subject, as tending more to rivet than to loose 
the chains of the slave ; and seriously to embarrass them in 
their gospel work. 

"Your committee, after much serious and prayerful consi- 
deration of this whole subject in all its complicated and per- 
plexing relations, and with a solemn sense of responsibility to 
God and to his church, are of one mind in recommending to 
the Assembly the following action : — 

"1. That this body reaffirm the doctrine of the 2d resolu- 
tion adopted by the Assembly in its action at Detroit in 1850. 

"2. That we do earnestly exhort and beseech all those who 
are happily free from any personal connection with the insti- 
tution of slavery, to exercise patience and forbearance toward 
their brethren less favoured in this respect than themselves, 
remembering the embarrassments of their position; and to 
cherish for them that fraternal confidence and love which they 
the more need in consequence of the peculiar trials by which 
the}' are surrounded. 

"3. To correct misapprehensions which may exist in many 
Northern minds, and allay causeless irritation, by having the 
real facts in relation to this subject spread before the whole 
church, it is recommended earnestly to request the presbyteries 
in each of the slave-holding States to take such measures as 
may seem to them most expedient and proper, for laying before 
the next Assembly, in its sessions at Philadelphia, distinct and 
full statements touching the following points : — 

"(1) The number of slave-holders in connection with the 
churches under their jurisdiction, and the number of slaves 
held by them. 

"(2) The extent to which slaves are held by an unavoid- 
able necessity 'imposed by the laws of the States, the obliga- 
tions of guardianship, and the demands of humanity/ 


"(3) Whether a practical regard, such as the word of God 
requires, is evinced by the Southern churches for the sacred- 
ness of the conjugal and parental relations as they exist among 
slaves; whether baptism is duly administered to the children 
of slaves professing Christianity; whether slaves are admitted 
to equal privileges and powers in the church courts; and, in 
general, to what extent and in what manner provision is made 
for the religious well-being of the enslaved." 

Of this important paper, adopted by a vote of 
eighty-four to thirty-nine, the following remarks 
may be made : — 

(a) It was clearly within the proper province of the 
Assembly to propound the inquiries suggested in the 
paper, No one, it would seem, could properly object 
to an effort to obtain information on any subject per- 
taining to the state of religion in the church, or to 
any thing that affected religion, from those best qua- 
lified to give it, especially when the information 
sought was to be communicated or not as those most 
directly interested should deem best. No compul- 
sory measures were instituted or suggested for secu- 
ring the information ; no agents or spies were to be 
employed; no one was to be questioned; no one 
was to be subjected to a penalty if he did not choose 
to give the information. Assuredly it would not be 
improper to endeavour to obtain correct information 
on this subject w T hen the Assembly seeks annually to 
obtain information by statistical tables, and by written 
narratives, and by oral reports, of the numbers that 
are admitted to the church, the numbers that are 
baptized, the amount of money contributed to bene- 
volent purposes, the manner in which the Sabbath 
is observed, and the prevalence of any form of 


immorality in a community where a church is 
located. If gambling is common, if profaneness 
abounds, if there are any causes tending to infidel- 
ity, if the Sabbath is profaned, if there is a preva- 
lence of licentiousness or intemperance, if there are 
places where the gospel is not preached, if there are 
children who have not the advantage of Sabbath- 
school instruction, the General Assembly feels itself 
fully competent to seek information, from all reliable 
sources, on these subjects, and to spread that informa- 
tion before the world, and to make the facts ascer- 
tained the basis of its own action in promoting the 
interests of sound morals and religion ; and, provided 
the inquiries are pursued without any inquisitorial 
prying into the affairs of men, no one feels that the 
Assembly has transcended its proper bounds. As- 
suredly, then, on a subject so deeply affecting the in- 
terests of religion, and on which there were so many 
grounds of presumption that the interests of religion 
would be affected by it, and on which there were so 
many floating and indefinite rumours in the com- 
munity, it was proper for the Assembly to seek to 
obtain exact and reliable information from those best 
qualified to give it, as the basis of its own future 

(b) The resolutions were entirely kind in their 
nature and their avowed design. They were adopted 
from no 'inquisitorial' or 'meddling' spirit; from no 
purpose to give trouble to the Southern churches 
or to cast suspicion or opprobrium on them. It is 
but just to those who framed and those who adopted 
the resolutions, to suppose that the reason stated for 
their adoption was the true one, unless there is some 


clear proof to the contrary. That reason is as fol- 
lows: — "To correct misapprehensions winch may exist in 
many Northern minds, and allay causeless irritation, by 
having the real facts in relation to this subject spread 
before the whole church." Xo one can deny that, 
if this were the real motive for adopting the resolu- 
tions, it was in a spirit of entire kindness toward 
the Southern churches, and with a desire to allay 
feelings in the Xorth which were caused by a mis- 
apprehension of the true state of the case. It was 
and is constantly alleged, by Southern Christians, 
that the real facts in regard to slavery are not under- 
stood at the Xorth ; that the evils are overstated ; 
that there are efforts made for the good of the slaves 
which are not understood and appreciated by the 
Xorth ; that there are difficulties in the way of eman- 
cipation which those who dwell at the Xorth cannot 
understand ; that more is done for the slaves than 
is commonly supposed ; and that if Xorthern men 
were themselves in the midst of these scenes they 
would judge differently from what they do ; and the 
design of these resolutions seems to have been to 
bring out before the world, in an authentic form, 
precisely the facts which authorize these statements, 
that the Xorth, as far as possible, might be in a con- 
dition to form a just estimate on the subject, and 
that the irritations which had been produced by a 
want of the information which Southern members 
of the churches alleged to be in their possession, 
might be allayed. 

(c) The resolutions now under consideration gave 
to the Southern members of the churches an oppor- 
tunity under this invitation — for it was no more — 


to disabuse the public mind at the North, and to 
brine: before the world an authentic statement of the 
real facts in the case. Of the twelve ' memorials' 
on which the action of the Assembly was based, one 
was from the South. That one complained "of un- 
kindness and injustice on the part of many Northern 
brethren in charging upon the memorialists practices 
of which they are not guilty, and in attributing to 
them motives which they utterly disclaim and abomi- 
nate;" and the resolutions adopted by the Assembly 
furnished the memorialists themselves, and all others, 
in their circumstances, with the very best opportunity 
which could be desired to disabuse themselves on 
the subject and to state what were the real facts in 
the case. When men complain of wrong done them, 
of the imputation of improper motives, of injustice 
in ascribing to them feelings of which they are not 
conscious, it seems to be an act of kindness simply 
to ask them what are the facts in the case, and what 
are their real views on a subject in which they are so 
much interested and where they have so ample means 
of information. Assuredly there can be no unkind- 
ness on the part of men who are cheirejed with being 
in the wrong if they ask to be put right, and if they 
have been accused of judging erroneously, that they 
seek to obtain the means by which they may be 
enabled to judge correctly. 

(<J) Moreover, this was a case in which there was 
no obligation, expressed or implied, to return any 
answers whatever. It was clearly constitutional and 
proper to propound these questions; and it was as 
clearl} T constitutional and proper not to answer them, 
unless the ministers and members of the Southern 


churches should suppose that it was proper, and that 
the interests of brotherhood, religion, and humanity, 
would be promoted by it. Whatever might be 
thought in regard to the subject on the score of 
courtesy, when, in such circumstances, and for such 
purposes, questions are seriously proposed by Chris- 
tian brethren and they are wholly disregarded, it is 
clear that no right was violated, and that no such wrong 
was done as to justify any further notice of it by the 
Assembly. Accordingly, when it appeared in the 
meeting of the Assembly in 1854 that the great body 
of the Southern churches had not even noticed in 
any way the resolutions of the Assembly proposing 
these inquiries, and that, in the three or four instances 
in which they had been noticed, the returns made 
to the Assembly were not even in the respectful 
form of written communications, but in the presenta- 
tion of neicspapcrs containing printed resolutions of 
presbyteries at the South, alike complaining of the 
action of the Assembly and refusing to give any 
information on the subject, it was obviously proper 
that the Assembly should press the subject no fur- 
ther, and Christian courtesy and the desire to avoid 
any additional cause of irritation demanded that no 
notice should be taken of the neglect of the Southern 
churches to adopt the mode proposed of disabusing 
themselves, and setting themselves right before the 
world in the very case where they alleged that the}' had 
reason to " complain of unkindness and injustice on 
the part of Northern brethren, in charging upon them 
practices of which they are not guilty, and in attribut- 
ing to them motives which they utterly disclaim and 
abominate." Accordingly, the Assembly properly 


dropped the subject, and did nothing to press in- 
quiries which the Southern churches seemed to re- 
gard as so improper and so discourteous. If I am 
under a misapprehension in regard to another, and 
am in danger unintentionally of doing him injustice, 
and am actually charged with doing him injustice, 
and if I simply ask the means of judging correctly in 
the case, and he does not choose to give me the in- 
formation, my sense of the obligations of Christian 
courtesy would not allow me to press the subject 
further, or even to reproach him for a neglect of 
what would seem to be so just to himself and so 
kind to me. 

(e) This action of the Assembly showed what are 
the established views of the Presbyterian church on 
the subject of slavery. It was in the line of all 
former acts and decisions. The action of the As- 
sembly at Detroit in 1850 is solemnly 'reaffirmed.' 
Slavery, according to that action, is regarded as an 
'offence,' and to be treated as such. It is contem- 
plated as a relation wholly different from that of 
husband and wife, parent and child, guardian and 
ward. It is evidently, according to these resolutions, 
a system not to be perpetuated but removed ; it is 
assumed that a man who sustains this relation is not, 
prima facie, in good standing in the church ; but that, 
if he sustains that relation, his good standing is to 
be made out by showing that he holds his slaves by 
"an unavoidable necessity imposed by the laws of 
the States, the obligations of guardianship, and the 
demands of humanity." 

There remains but one other act of the General 
Assembly to be noticed as indicating the position 


of tlie Xew-school Presbyterian church on the sub- 
ject of slavery. The most solemn testimony had 
been repeatedly borne against the system, — testi- 
mony so explicit and so often repeated that it 
would seem that it would avail nothing if it were 
reiterated; the subject had been discussed in all 
its bearings and relations, and with a freedom with 
which it had never been approached in any other 
body in our country; the Assembly had repeat- 
edly, and in the most solemn manner, declared that 
the end contemplated was "the entire abolition of 
slavery;" the churches where it prevails had been 
exhorted to use every practicable measure to detach 
themselves wholly from the system; it had been 
declared by two Assemblies to be an offence in the 
proper and technical sense of the term, — in the sense 
that the member of the church who w r as a slave- 
holder was liable to discipline in the same way as any 
other offender, unless he could show T that the cir- 
cumstances in which he held slaves were such as to 
make it "unavoidable by the laws of the State, the 
obligations of guardianship, or the demands of 
humanity;" and a solemn and earnest request, which 
the result showed was entirely unheeded, had been 
sent to the churches wmere slavery prevails, to as- 
certain and report the exact facts in the case, that 
they might thus " correct misapprehensions and allay 
causeless irritation." 

What could be doue next? "What power had the 
church to move further ? Had the limit of its power 
been reached? Were the means of reaching and re- 
moving the evil exhausted? Was there no step 
which could still be taken ? Or must the church sit 


clown now in hopeless despair as to the probability 
that the evil would ever be removed ? 

To meet and answer these questions, the subject, 
in 1855, was referred to a committee, at the meeting 
of the Assembly in St. Louis, to report to the next 
Assembly on the constitutional powers of the As- 
sembly on the subject, The resolution appointing 
the committee, as finally adopted, is in the following 
words: — "That the General Assembly hereby reaf- 
firm the testimony of past Assemblies in regard to 
the sinfulness of the system of slavery as it generally 
exists in these United States, and express their deep 
regret at the intemperateness of word and action 
which has too often characterized the spirit of those 
who have conscientiously aimed at its overthrow ; 
and that they urge upon their churches earnest 
efforts, by all Christian and constitutional modes, to 
remove the evil from the midst of us. 

"That a committee be appointed to report to the 
next Assembly on the constitutional power of the 
Assembly over the subject of slave-holding in our 
churches; and that we recommend that this evil be 
removed from our church as soon as it can be done 
in a Christian and constitutional manner." (Minutes 
of the Assembly for 1855, pp. 34-36.) 

Of these resolutions it may be remarked, — 

(a) That there is no retrocession on the subject of 
slavery. All the solemn testimonies of former As- 
semblies are reaffirmed in regard to the evil of the 

(6) It is a renewed testimony against the ' sinful- 
ness' of the system of slavery. It is regarded as 
sinful, and so treated. It is in no sense spoken of as 


a proper or desirable relation, or as a system which 
is to be perpetuated in the church. 

(c) The same great object is aimed at which has 
marked all the acts of the General Assembly of the 
Presbyterian church from 1787 : — the entire and total 
abolition of slavery. Thus, they urge upon the churches 
" earnest efforts, by all Christian and constitutional 
modes, to remove the evil from the midst of us;" 
and thus they " recommend that this evil be removed 
from our church as soon as it can be done in a Christian 
and constitutional manner". The system is never con- 
templated in the Presbyterian church as one that is 
to be perpetuated, or that is on the same level as the 
relation of parent and child, guardian and ward. It 
is an evil ; it is a sinful . system; it is a system that is 
to be wholly 'removed' as soon as it can be done. 

The committee appointed in 1855 reported the 
present year the following paper, which was adopted 
by the Assembly : — 

"The Committee appointed by the last General Assembly 
'to report to the next Assembly on the constitutional power 
of the Assembly over the subject of slave-holding in our 
churches/ respectfully submit the following report : — 

"It should be observed, at the outset, that the Committee 
are instructed to report on but a single point, — that of ' power/ 
The question before them is not what it may be wise for the 
Assembly to do; not what, in a particular case, or in general, 
— authority being presupposed, — would be for edification; 
but what is the power of the Assembly in the matter of slave- 
holding. This is a question which can be determined only by 
reference to our Form of Government. The ' power' on which 
we are to report is fitly designated as 'constitutional/ We 
are a constitutional body. No judicatory of our church has 


any legitimate functions, save those which, either expressly or 
by clear implication, the Constitution confers. Emphatically 
should this be said of our highest judicatory, in view of the 
tendency of human nature, in ecclesiastical connections, to a 
grasping and tyrannous centralism. The one-man power at 
Rome is hardly more abhorrent to the genius of Presbyterian- 
ism than would be a many-headed Papacy under the name and 
form of a General Assembly. It should be remembered, also, 
that as a visible church, or particular denomination, our Con- 
stitution is the sole bond of our union. "We are united, ex- 
ternally and formally, only as that unites us. That, of course, 
must measure and limit the responsibility for each other which 
grows out of our union. No one part of our body can be held 
answerable for the evils in another, which, by the terms of our 
confederation, it has no power to reach. 

"The Committee would further remark that they do not 
feel themselves called on to present their views of the moral 
character of slavery, or to re-argue the question whether slave- 
holding is, in any case, a disciplinable offence. They do not 
suppose that they were appointed with reference to that ques- 
tion. It was thoroughly discussed in the Assembly of 1850, 
and the conclusion reached, 'that the holding of our fellow- 
men in the condition of slavery, except in those cases where 
it is unavoidable by the laws of the State, the obligations of 
guardianship, or the demands of humanity, is an offence in the 
proper import of that term, as used in the Book of Discipline, 
chapter 1, section 3, and should be regarded and treate-d in 
the same manner as other offences. ' This opinion has been 
reaffirmed, either expressly or virtually, by nearly every suc- 
ceeding Assembly, including the last. Nor do the Committee 
anticipate that any considerable portion of the present Assem 
bly will either stand in doubt concerning it, or incline in the 
least to a retrograde course. The doctrine set forth at De- 
troit — set forth simply as a doctrine, and not as a law or judi- 
cial decision — is yet, they judge, the settled view of our 


church. Taking this for granted, their sole concern is with 
the relation of the Assembly to the matter. To determine 
this point, we have only to ascertain what are the constitu- 
tional powers of that body in respect to disciplinable offences 

"Its functions, in this regard, we judge, are of two kinds, — ■ 
advisory and authoritative ; and between these there should be 
careful discrimination. The advisory function of the Assem- 
bly is of very wide scope. According to the Form of Govern-* 
ment, chapter 12, section 5, they have the power of 'reprov- 
ing, warning, or bearing testimony against error in doctrine or 
immorality in practice in any church, presbytery, or synod,' 
and 'of recommendino* reformation of manners through all 
the churches under their care.' This function of reproof 
may be exercised in reference to any evil grave enough to 
call for it. Nor is it an unimportant function. The testi- 
mony of such a body as the General Assembly, especially if 
unanimously given, must needs have great weight. It has, 
indeed, only a moral influence. It is not authoritative. It 
binds no other body; not even a succeeding Assembly. It 
binds no individual; yet cases are not unfrequent in which 
a moral influence of this sort, if not the only one that could 
be employed, is the most efficacious. It has greater power 
over the conscience, often, than the most stringent exercise 
of bare authority. 

"As it respects the authoritative function of the Assembly, 
or its power of discipline, that, we judge, can only be exer- 
cised in the forms and methods marked out in the Constitu- 
tion. It is by no means coextensive with its testifying power. 
As counsel or testimony has only a moral force, the manner 
in which it shall be put forth is wisely left to the discretion of 
the Assembly. Not so with discipline. Concerning, as it 
does, the dearest rights and interests, it is of the highest im- 
portance that the mode of its exercise should be particularly 
prescribed. So we find it in our Form of Government 


Every step is distinctly set forth, and the greatest care taken 
to guard all concerned against mistake and abuse. Nor is any 
exception made as to any particular class of offences. If 
slave-holding is in any case to be dealt with as a disciplinable 
matter, it must be in some one of the ways explicitly author- 
ized in the Constitution. 

"The methods in which the authoritative action of the As- 
sembly may be invoked, as appears from the seventh chapter 
of the Book of Discipline, are four: — By refi r< no . by appro I, 
by complaint, and — to state that last which, in the Book of 
Discipline, comes first — by general review and control. The 
three processes first named do not, of course, originate in the 
Assembly. Their inception is in a lower judicatory. In one 
or another of them, it is presumed, most of the matters which 
call for disciplinary action on the part of the highest judica- 
tory will, in due time, come before it. There is, however, a 
possibility of neglect in this regard, and, for such a contin- 
gency, our Constitution — framed with a wisdom best appreci- 
ated by those who have most thoroughly studied it — has made 
a specific provision. This provision is found in the section on 
1 General Review and Control.' See Book of Discipline, 
chapter 7, section 1. 

"Under this section, there are two methods in which any 
disciplinable offence — and slave-holding, of course, when it 
assumes that character — may be reached authoritatively by the 
Assembly. (1) It may appear from the records of a syuod, 
as submitted for inspection, that there has been some wrong- 
doing or culpable omission in the matter. A case may have 
been incorrectly decided, or refused a hearing. Or it may be 
obvious that the records of some presbytery have not, accord- 
ing to the 2d and 3d articles of this section, been properly 
disposed of. Or it may appear that the duty enjoined in the 
6th article — that of citing a lower judicatory in a given con- 
tingency — has been entirely neglected. In cases of this sort, 
there may be ' animadversion or censure/ or, according to 


article 3, the synod 'may be required to review and correct its 
proceedings/ (2) 'Any important delinquency, or grossly 
unconstitutional proceedings/ not apparent from the records, 
may yet be charged against a synod 'by common fame/ It 
may be reported, for example, that, through some neglect of 
the synod, 'heretical opinions or corrupt practices' are 'al- 
lowed to gain ground,' or that 'offenders of a very gross cha- 
racter' are 'suffered to escape/ See articles 5 and 6 of this 
same section. In such case, provided the rumour is of the cha- 
racter specified in the Book of Discipline, chapter 3, section 5, 
— for a process against a synod should certainly not be com- 
menced on slighter grounds than against an individual, — the 
Assembly 'is to cite the judicatory alleged to have offended, to 
appear at a specified time and place, and to show what it has 
done, or failed to do, in the case in question; after which the 
judicatory thus issuing the citation shall remit the whole 
matter to the delinquent judicatory, with a direction to take 
it up, and dispose of it in a constitutional manner, or stay all 
further proceedings in the case, as circumstances may require/ 
See Book of Discipline, chapter 7, section 1, article G. 

"In view of the aforenamed and other provisions of our 
Form of Government, touching the authority of the Assembly, 
two things are to be carefully noted. 

"1. It has no power to commence a process of discipline 
with an individual offender. That, by a just and wise arrange- 
ment, belongs to the session in the case of a layman, to the 
presbytery in the case of a minister. The disciplinary func- 
tion of the Assembly, as to individuals, is simply appellate 
and revisionary. It is not the court of first, but of last, 

"2. In the way of 'general review and control/ it can reach 
directly only the judicatory next below; that is, the synod. 
See Book of Discipline, chapter 7, section 1, article 6. Indi- 
rectly, indeed, the doings of other bodies may be involved. A 
session may grossly neglect discipline, for example, and the 


recorded indication, or the common fame thereof, may not be 
properly heeded by the presbytery. The fruit of this heed- 
lessness, or the evidence of it in the presbyterial records, may 
call forth no appropriate action on the part of the synod; and 
this may be brought, by the synodical records, or by general 
rumour, to the knowledge of the Assembly. On the ground 
of either the record or the rumour, the Assembly may cite the 
synod before them. Thus, mediately, may even a session be 
reached, but not directly. 

" Such are the metes and bounds which our Form of Govern- 
ment has prescribed, and which the Assembly may not over- 
pass. It is quite possible that, in connection with them, of- 
fenders of various sorts may sometimes escape. To a human 
administration, of however divine a system, imperfection al- 
ways pertains. Our Book of Discipline, indeed, (chapter 3, 
section 3,) distinctly recognises a class of cases in which, ' how- 
ever grievous it may be to the pious to see an unworthy mem- 
ber in the church, it is proper to wait until God, in his right- 
eous providence, shall give further light/ Waiting may be 
rendered necessary by a lack of fidelity on the part of the 
lower judicatories, as well as by a lack of evidence. We speak 
of it, of course, not as an actual, but only as a supposable, case. 
And it may seem to some a great evil that the General As- 
sembly is not invested with larger powers. Yet it would be a 
greater evil to allow any departure from the carefully-devised 
processes of discipline set forth in the Constitution. To per- 
mit the Assembly to adopt, at its pleasure, new processes — ■ 
to suit its own powers to real or fancied exigencies — would not 
only invest it with legislative functions, but would virtually 
annul the Constitution, and transform the highest judicatory 
of the church into an overshadowing ecclesiastical despotism. 

"It has, indeed, been urged — though we see not with what 
reason — that the advisory function of the Assembly, or its 
power of bearing testimony, implies the authority necessary to 
enforce that testimony. Is there, then, no just and salutary 


distinction between persuasion and compulsion ? Must the 
two be ever conjoined? Are there no cases in which a simple 
moral power may, in the nature of things, be most potent ? 
Must the Assembly utter no counsels which are not to be in- 
terpreted as mandatory and coercive? If they may enforce 
all their counsels, how are they to do it ? By processes which 
they themselves devise? — extra-constitutional processes? Or 
are they to be held to the provisions of the Book of Discipline ? 
They have, it is true, the right, according to the Form of Go- 
vernment, chapter 12, section 5, of 'attempting/ as well as 
1 recommending, reformation of manners/ But the attempt 
must be made, if discipline is to be involved, only in the 
method prescribed in the Constitution. To all desirable ends, 
the Committee believe that method will be found adequate, 
especially as connected with that testifying and reproving 
function so often exercised in time past, and which, by a body 
like the Assembly, can never be wisely exercised but with 
salutary results/' 

Iii reference to this paper the following remarks 
may^ be made : — 

(a) The Assembly adopted, as its own, the action 
of the Assembly at Detroit, which declared that 
" the holding of our fellow-men in the condition 
of slavery, except in those cases where it is 
unavoidable by the laws of the State, the obliga- 
tions of guardianship, or the demands of humanity, 
is an 'offence' in the proper import of the term;" — 
thus placing it, in all cases except those specified, 
among the sins which subject a man to the dis- 
cipline of the church. This the committee — and 
the Assembly by adopting their report — say, is "the 
settled view of the church." 

(b) There is no retrocession — no returning — 'to a 
retrograde course.' There is no abandonment of 


any former c testimony;' no modification of any 
previous doctrine promulgated by the Assembly on 
the subject; no intimation that any other ground 
was to be taken than that which had been taken 
in all the previous acts of the Assembly. The 
only inquiry before the committee, and the only 
point on which the Assembly acted, had reference 
to the ' 'power' of the Assembly, as a constitutional 
body, in carrying out the views which had been 
uniformly proclaimed on the subject of slavery. 

(e) The same great object is manifestly contem- 
plated which had been pursued so long, and which 
was so distinctly declared in the resolutions of 1818, 
— the 'total abolition of slavery.' It was with refer- 
ence to the mode of doing this, and the power of the 
Assembly to do it, that the committee was appointed. 
It was not contemplated in that appointment that 
they should suggest any way by which slavery could 
be perpetuated, or by which the relation could be 
made to appear to be in accordance with the prin- 
ciples of the gospel, or to recommend any method 
by which the conscience of a slave-holder could 
be relieved while sustaining that relation. The ap- 
pointment of the committee had one end only; and 
that end is reconcilable only with the view that 
slave-holding is an evil, and that some ' power' 
should be exercised over those who sustain that re- 
lation. What would have been the proper inter- 
pretation of an act appointing a committee to 
inquire into the constitutional power of the As- 
sembly over the relations of parent and child, hus- 
band and wife, guardian and ward? What but that 
in these relations there was something so evil, or so 


dangerous, as to demand the interposition of the 
authority of the church? What would be the fair 
interpretation of an act of the Assembly appoint- 
ing a committee to inquire into the 'constitutional 
power of the Assembly' in relation to any of its 
members who might be engaged in selling lottery- 
tickets, or in prosecuting a business that necessarily 
led to a violation of the Sabbath, or in relation to 
those who rent their property for purposes of pollution 
or gambling? What but that it w^as supposed that 
there was something in such a mode of life as to 
demand the interposition of the Assembly in re- 
moving it, as a scandal, from the church? No 
other interpretation than this can be fairly given to 
the act of the Assembly in appointing the com- 
mittee on the subject of slave-holding; no other 
duty was understood by the majority of the com- 
mittee to have been assigned them. 

(d) In accordance with this view, the whole report 
of the committee is based on the fact that slave- 
holding is, primfi facie, sl disciplinable < offence, ' and 
that there is a regular way by which, as such, it 
may be brought before the Assembly. The com- 
mittee regarded it as nothing else; and the only 
real inquiry before them was, how it might be con- 
stitutionally reached so as to be removed from the 

The subject of slavery, therefore, has been more 
fully discussed in the New-school Presbyterian 
church in this country than by any other denomi- 
nation of Christians. No other denomination has 
had the subject so often before it, or met it so frankly 
and fearlessly. No denomination has borne so 


frequent and so decided a testimony against it. 
Xone lias sought so earnestly and so steadily to 
remove the evil from its own bounds or from the 
land. The position of the Xew-school church on 
the subject is perfectly defined. Xo one need mis- 
take it: it would seem that it would be impossible 
to mistake it. The sentiments of the church on 
the subject are well known to its own ministers 
and members : they are proclaimed before the 

From the review of the successive steps taken by 
the Presbyterian church, the following results seem 
to be fully established as indicating the position of 
the church on the subject: — 

1. Slave-holding is regarded as an evil. It is a 
different relation altogether from that of husband 
and wife, parent and child, guardian and ward. It 
is held to be contrary to the precepts of the I3ible 
and to the spirit of Christianity. This has been ex- 
pressed in every variety of way, and without any 
ambiguity or any wavering. The principles as- 
serted so constantly and so long by the Presb3'terian 
church cannot be carried out under the idea that 
slavery is not an evil, or that it is not unlike the re- 
lations in life just referred to. There has been no 
such legislation in regard to them: no such legisla- 
tion in regard to them would be attempted or tole- 
rated either at the South or the North. 

It is sometimes asked whether slavery is to be 
regarded as a sin per se, — or a sin in itself; and much 
learned dust is sometimes thrown in reference to 
this question, assisting much in the effort to mystify 
the subject and to escape from the charge of crimi- 


nality. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian 
church has not attempted to discuss this abstract 
matter, as it has not in regard to the sin per se of 
horse-racing or lotteries; and it might be possible 
to create as much mystery by discussing the ques- 
tion about the abstract nature of sin in reference to 
those subjects as in reference to slavery. The truth 
is, that, except for purpose of mystification, — for the 
purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of another, — 
for the purpose of escaping from responsibility in a 
fog, — for the purpose of indulging in sin while the 
mind is diverted by an abstract question, — and for 
the purpose of perplexing an adversary, — we never 
start the question whether any thing is a sin per se 
at all. When, however, a man desires to sell lottery- 
tickets, nothing is more convenient than to suggest 
the inquiry whether it is a sin per se to make this 
kind of appeal to chance; when a- man is hard 
pressed by arguments for temperance, and desires 
to indulge in wine as a beverage, or even in stronger 
drink, nothing is more convenient for his purpose 
than to start the question whether it is to be re- 
garded as a sin per se to partake of fermented 
liquors or alcoholic drinks ; when a priest or a Le- 
vite would wish for any cause to pass by a wounded 
man, nothing can be more convenient than to start 
the inquiry whether this could be regarded as a sin 
per se. Few would be the clear moral decisions 
which men would make if they should pause at 
every step to settle this abstract question ; few are 
the questions of morals, however plain to common 
minds, which could not be mystified and made very 
doubtful if this point were to be settled before men 


should act. As a matter of plain, practical, every- 
day concern, it is not desirable to put any of these 
questions in this form; in reference to sound policy 
and sound action in a community, it is not wise to 
open any of these matters to the endless logomachies 
which attend such abstract inquiries. 

Two things seem to be all that is needful to be 
said on the question whether slavery is to be regard- 
ed as a sin per se. 

(a) One is, that, if it is meant that there may pos- 
sibly be a case where the relation is not sinful, this 
may be so. This was expressly assumed in the reso- 
lutions adopted at Detroit, if slave-holding in any 
case is " unavoidable by the laws of the State, or by 
the obligations of guardianship, or by the demands 
of humanity." That such cases may occur there can 
be no reason to doubt; how frequent they are, is 
another question altogether. It is to be presumed, 
however, that they comprise but few of all the cases 
of slave-holding in the land. Few slave-holders de- 
fend the fact that they hold men in bondage on these 
grounds ; few advocates of slavery at the North main- 
tain that these cases constitute the general rule and 
not the exceptions. All those, with very few ex- 
ceptions, who regard slave-holding in general as 
sinful, suppose that there may be cases where the 
mere legal relation cannot be regarded as wrong. 
If a purchase is made at the request of a slave, and 
with a view to his freedom; if he is held merely in 
transitu, and with the design that he shall be free ; 
if an aged slave in a family is so held in order that 
he may be provided for, and so held that he might 
be free if he chose, and that he would not be sold if 


his nominal master should die; or if the young who 
are inherited as slaves are held with a view to free- 
dom, and under a proper training for freedom, and 
with suitable security that they shall he free when 
they reach a certain age or should their legal owner 
die, — it would seem to be plain that these cases are 
consistent with the spirit of Christianity, and that a 
man should not feel that he is guilty before God if 
he is in these circumstances. But, at the same time, 
it should be said that it ought to be a matter of de- 
vout gratitude to any one to be able to reflect that 
he is not in that condition himself, and that his 
mind will be more at ease if, even in this sense, he is 
wholly detached from slavery. 

(b) But, if it is contemplated that a slave is to be 
held as a slave, — as property ; if he is bought and 
sold for purposes of gain; if his freedom is not con- 
templated or desired; if no arrangements are made 
for his emancipation while his owner lives or when 
he dies ; if there is no express and definite training 
for freedom; if the whole system of discipline is 
such as to fit him for slavery and not for freedom ; 
if the slave is so held that when his master dies he 
will be subject to the same mode of disposal as any 
other 'property;' if he is liable to be sold into 
harder bondage, to be separated from his wife and 
children, to be consigned to perpetual servitude, — 
then slave-holding is a sin per se, and should be 
dealt with as any other sin is. If such be the aim 
and the purpose of the slave-holder, then, in reply 
to the question whether slavery is a ' sin per se,' I an- 
swer, in the words of another, "It is a sin, as murder 
is sin, as theft is sin, as injustice is sin. Cases there 



maybe where slave-holders are only nominally guilty. 
The same is true of many acts which, in view of 
human law, are called murder and theft. A man 
may he a nominal slave-holder from necessity, and 
yet he a pious and benevolent man. A murderer 
in the judgment of man may be acquitted at the 
bar of God. In both these cases a false judgment 
exists. There is neither slave-holding nor murder 
in either case. But when a man kills another from 
malice, it is murder; when a man holds slaves for 
gain, it is injustice and fraud. Here is the true dis- 
tinction. Any man who holds slaves for a benevoh ni 
end, — who remunerates their labour, and is only pre- 
vented from manumitting them by circumstances 
which he cannot control, — is involved in misfortune, 
but not in guilt ; but he who holds slaves for his otni 
gain, to increase his wealth, or to promote his selfish 
ends, is as truly guilty of injustice and fraud as 
if he were a common thief; and he is all the more 
guilty, because he robs the slave of rights far more 
precious than gold. A single act of robbery dooms 
a thief to the State prison ; a system of robbery is 
justified and defended, and is no bar to honour and 
respectability in the world."* 

These are, in my apprehension, sound moral prin- 
ciples; nor is it possible for me to see how, if a 
slave is held for purposes of gain and not for a pur- 
pose of benevolence, the act can be regarded other- 
wise than as a ' sin fer se,' — a sin like all other sins 
in itself — and that it should be so treated and regarded. 

* Slavery and the Church, by Smectyninuus, Boston, 185G, p. 3. 
This is by an Old-school Presbyterian. 


2. It is a clear principle in the Presbyterian 
church, as defined by the successive acts of the 
church represented in the General Assembly, that 
slavery is not regarded as a good to be perpetuated, 
but as an evil to be removed. There is not an act 
of the church, from the beginning of its history in 
this country, that can, by any fair interpretation, 
be adduced to prove that slavery is to be perpetuated, 
or that it is contemplated as a thing which it is 
desirable to continue in the world. All the acts 
of the Assembly from the beginning look in one 
direction; all contemplate one end: — the total aboli- 
tion of slavery in the church and in the world. 
The inquiries which have been started and pursued 
with so much earnestness now for a period of more 
than fifty years have not been how it may be per- 
petuated, but how it may be removed. There has 
been no legislation with a view to its perpetuity ; 
there has been none so to modify the system that 
it might thus become a relation desirable to be per- 
petuated; there has been no direct and exclusive 
action in regard to the abuses of the system. All 
the acts of the Assembly have been aimed at the 
thing itself, as a great evil which the best interests 
of religion made it desirable to have removed as 
soon as possible. There has been indeed much 
kindness and forbearance in the spirit of all the acts 
of the Assembly. There has been much sympathy 
expressed for the Southern churches who are in- 
volved in the misfortunes and disadvantages inci- 
dent to slavery. There has been no disposition to 
press matters to an extreme. There has been no 
disposition to cut even slave-holders off from the 


church, by summary legislation. There Las been a 
firm and fixed regard to the Constitution of the 
church. There has been much inquiry and much 
prayer about the proper way to reach the evil ; but 
there has been an intention to reach it. There has 
been one steady, long-continued, persevering effort 
to reach it; and, so far as the action of the church 
has gone, it has been of the same nature as that 
pursued in relation to intemperance, Sabbath-break- 
ing, profaneness, gambling, lotteries, horse-racing, 
and licentiousness, — a steady inquiry, not how these 
evils might be perpetuated in the community, but 
how they might be removed ; an inquiry, not how 
they might be rendered tolerable by checking 
abuses, but how they might be removed altogether; 
an inquiry, not whether it was desirable to remove 
them, but only how it might be done. Emancipa- 
tion, entire and universal, has been in the line of 
all the action on the subject of slavery, and would 
have been accomplished long ago if the often-ex- 
pressed wishes of the church had been complied 
with, or if there had been power to reach the 

3. It follows from the various acts of the Assembly, 
as they have now been considered, that a man who 
is a slave-holder is not primd facie in good standing 
in the Presbyterian church. It is a case for him to 
make out; not for him to assume to be true. There 
may be cases, as has been shown, where a man is 
not to be regarded as subject to the discipline of the 
church, or as guilty of an ' offence,' who sustains 
the legal relation of a slave-holder; but that is a case 
for him to make out. It is true that slave-holding has 


existed in the Presbyterian church, as in all other 
churches in this country, from the beginning; it is 
true that there has been no formal act of the church 
declaring that a man who sustains this relation 
cannot, in any circumstances, be regarded as in 
good standing in the church ; it is true that there 
have been no formal acts of discipline excluding 
a man from the church for sustaining this relation: 
it is true that many have entered the church sup- 
posing that the act of slave-holding was no bar to 
good standing; and it is true that in the General 
Assembly slave-holding ministers and elders have 
been admitted to seats without a question being 
raised as to their regular standing in the church. 
But all this does not change the essential inference 
derived from the action of the church on the sub- 
ject. How can a man who is a slave-holder regard 
himself as occirpying precisely the same position 
in the church as he does who sustains the relation 
of husband, father, guardian? Against the one 
relation there has been a long and steady course 
of action for fifty years, speaking uniformly of the 
system as "evil; as contrary to the Bible and the 
spirit of Christianity; as a gross violation of the 
most precious and sacred rights of human nature; 
as a paradox in the moral system; as a blot on our 
holy religion; as a system to be totally removed 
as speedily as possible." How can a man, if he 
respects these uniform and reiterated declarations 
of his own church, — declarations made before he 
entered it, existing on its records when he entered 
it, and repeated constantly since he entered it, — 
how can he regard himself, or suppose that the 


church regards him, as in perfectly fair and good 
standing in a church where these are the avowed 
and settled principles, who holds his fellow-men in 
a condition where they are exposed to all these 
evils? Suppose that the same course of legislation 
had been pursued in regard to lotteries, and a member 
of the church still persisted in selling lottery-tickets 
and was tolerated, not because his conduct was 
approved, but because there was no constitu- 
tional power to bring him under any act of disci- 
pline ; or in regard to the manufacture and sale 
of ardent spirits, and a member of the church still 
persevered in manufacturing and selling the poison ; 
or in regard to horse-racing, and a member of the 
church still persisted in engaging in this species 
of business; or in regard to the slave-trade, and a 
member of the church still continued to pursue 
the traffic : would it be proper to assume that such 
a man was prima facie in good standing in the 
church, and that, other things being equal, he was 
to be regarded as precisely in the same condition as 
the man who sustains the relation of father, husband, 
or guardian ? The Presbyterian church by its acts 
regards the holding of slaves as an '-offence,' — that 
is, an act subjecting a man to the discipline of 
the church, — unless he can show that, in his case, 
from peculiar circumstances, it is not to be so 
treated. And, according to the acts of that church, 
this offence is to be approached and reached as any 
other ' offence' is ; and nothing in the nature of the 
act, or the relation as such, separates it in the esti- 
mate in which it is to be held and in the manner 
in which it is to be treated, in the recorded judg- 


merit of the church, from any other act subjecting 
a man to discipline. 

These, so far as I can understand the acts of the 
church, are settled principles. This is the position of 
the Presbyterian church on this subject. These are 
the ends and aims which have been contemplated now 
for a period of half a century. The declaration of 
sentiment has been steady ; the aim has been steady. 
The ultimate avowed object from the beginning has 
been the ' total abolition of slavery' in the church, and, 
as far as possible, in the world ; the inquiries pursued 
have been only how this end might best be reached. 
There have been no back-tracks taken; there has 
been no ambiguity in regard to this as being the 
ultimate design. If there has been an intermitting 
of testifying on the subject, it has not been because 
there has been any change of view or purpose; if 
the church has seemed to slumber over the subject, 
it has been because some other important matter 
claimed more immediate attention, or because it 
seemed that a mere repetition of former testimonies 
in regard to the subject would only irritate without 
promoting the object ; if there has been an omission 
to act, it was because it was not apparent what 
further could be done; if there has been a kind 
word uttered in behalf of the churches where the 
evil prevails, it was not to apologize for the evil, 
but to prevent a severity of judgment and a harsh- 
ness of expression in regard to those who, by no 
agency of their own, have been placed in these 
circumstances; and if there has been a word of 
severity uttered in regard to abolitionists, it has 
not been because they were aiming to ' effect the 


total abolition of slavery,' but because some of 
them made war on the Bible, on the church, and 
on the ministry; it has been because they were 
promoting infidelity at the same time that they 
were promoting a good cause, or under colour of 
promoting a good cause, — not because they are the 
enemies of slavery. 

Such a position I regard as a noble position. It 
has given the Xew-school Presbyterian church an 
elevation, in this respect, above the branch of the 
church from which it has been separated, and above 
all the other churches in this land. Its position is 
better determined than that of any other church; 
the subject has had a more full discussion in that 
church than in any other. Difficulties have been 
encountered which are yet to be encountered by 
every other great denomination of Christians in this 
land, and which, in the discussion, may do to them 
what it has not done to the Xew-school Presbyterian 
church, — break them asunder or scatter them in 
fragments. The positions taken in that church have 
placed it, in this respect, in a condition that accords 
with the spirit of the age in regard to slavery ; with 
all the noble sentiments that prevail in the world 
on the subject, and with all the genuine utterances 
of humanity. In this respect it is abreast, if not 
ahead, of the world. 

For one, I glory in this position, and deem it 
an honour to belong to a church where these senti- 
ments have been uttered; these positions taken; 
and these ends avowed. I would not remain con- 
nected with a church — no, not for one hour — if I 
believed that it was contemplated that slavery was 


to be a permanent institution in that church ; if it was 
held that the relation is on the same basis as that 
of husband and wife, parent and child, master and 
apprentice, guardian and ward; if it was under- 
stood that the relation implied nothing against a 
man's good and regular standing in the church; 
and if the "complete abolition of slavery through- 
out Christendom, and, if possible, throughout the 
world," was not the aim contemplated and steadily 
pursued by all Christian and constitutional methods. 
If such were not the aim of the church with which 
I was connected, I would seek some other connec- 
tion; or, if I could not find such a connection in a 
church that would be in general accordance with 
my views on other matters, I would stand alone, 
and give utterance to a solitary testimony against 
this great evil, — "this blot on our holy religion." 
I would go down, as I intend to now, to the closing 
scene of my life with the reflection that, though my 
name might be w T orth little, it could not be adduced 
as in any way, or by any fair construction, con- 
tributing to the support and perpetuity of this sys- 
tem, or as being connected with a church which 
contemplated this as among the permanent institu- 
tions of the world. My death-bed shall never be 
clouded by any such recollection ; and no man after 
my death shall be able to refer to me as having even 
once in my life uttered a sentiment in favour of 
human bondage, or as having contributed even by 
my silence to its extension and perpetuity in the 




It is a very material inquiry now, whether all has 
been clone by the church that can be clone to check 
the progress of slavery and to remove it from the 
world; whether the resources of the church are 
exhausted; whether Christianity at this point is 
powerless; whether the church, having borne its 
testimony against the evil, must sit down exhausted 
and despair of doing any thing further; or whether 
there is still a work to be accomplished, that shall 
be in the proper line of the functions of the church, 
for detaching itself from the evil, and for removing 
it from our land and from the world. Must the 
church stand where it is, and leave the evil to grow 
or to correct itself? Must it, confessing its own 
weakness, make it over now to politicians and t6 
worldly men ? Must it, having made a record of its 
sentiments on the subject, now fold its arms and 
look to the providence of God alone to interpose and 
check the evil ? 

]STo man with just views will doubt that there is 
need of the interposition of divine Providence in 
removing such an evil as slavery from the world ; no 
man with just views will make any effort to remove 
the evil without feeling that all success must de- 


pend on that God who has power over men's hearts, 
and who can dispose them to do what is right, — "to 
unloose the heavy burdens, and to bid the oppressed 
go free." Still, it is a proper and a fair inquiry 
whether there is any thing that remains to be done 
by the church to "efface this blot on our holy reli- 
gion," and to secure "liberty to all the inhabitants 
of the land." This inquiry will be pursued first 
with reference to the Xew-school Presbyterian 
church, and then with reference to the church at 

In reference to the Xew-school Presbyterian 
church (and the same remarks would be applicable 
to some other denominations) there are two points 
worthy of remark. One relates to the fact that it is 
a constitutional body; the other to the inquiry what 
can be done under that Constitution, and consist- 
ently with it, in reaching and removing the evil. 

1. It is a constitutional body; that is, it has prin- 
ciples of doctrine and rules of practice which have 
been agreed on, and which are to be observed in all 
its acts of government and discipline. The general 
principles contained, as it is supposed, in the Xew 
Testament, have been embodied and arranged for 
the organization and the government of the church. 
It is not supposed either that the principles of the 
Constitution are of higher authority than the Bible; 
or that there is any thing in the Constitution which 
cannot be found substantially in the Bible ; or that 
its rules and laws are binding should they contra- 
vene the laws of the Bible ; or that they bind the 
conscience as such in the same sense that the laws of 
the Bible do ; or that they cannot be altered if it 


should be found necessary in order to make them 
more conformable to the Bible. The arrangement 
is conventional; and it is agreed, by those who become 
ministers and members of that church, that, while 
connected with it, they will conform to the specified 
rules and arrangements in the Form of Government 
and Discipline. It is an admitted principle with all 
true Presbyterians that the Constitution must be 
complied with or altered; that in reference to all 
evils, and the methods of removing them, the forms 
specified in the Constitution should be strictly ob- 
served, or that they should be, in a proper way, so 
changed as to meet that form of evil; that a man 
who is not willing to pursue this course, and who 
should seek to introduce some form of meeting 
an evil not known to the Constitution, violates a 
compact solemnly made when he connected himself 
with the church. There is a proper course for such 
a man. It is to seek, in a regular way, to have the 
Constitution so changed as to meet his views, or, 
failing in this, quietly to withdraw from the church 
and seek another connection. 

At the same time, it is to be observed that the 
Constitution of the church may be altered. Vener- 
able as it is, valuable as it is, and wise as it is, it is 
not to be assumed that all wisdom died with the 
fathers ; nor is it to be assumed that they had the 
gift of inspiration to understand all that there is in 
the Bible, or that comprehensive power which could 
condense all which it contains into a brief constitu- 
tion. 'Nov had they the gift of such extraordinary 
foreknowledge as to be able to anticipate all the 
contingencies which might occur, or all the phases 


of error and sin which might at any future time 
exist in the church and the world. If slave-holding 
is a sin, and if the Constitution has not made provi- 
sion for removing it, it is not to be assumed that it 
is therefore to he perpetual in the church, and that 
it is forever to be protected by the sanction of a 
constitution. The true way would be to meet it as 
any other evil would be met which had been before 
misunderstood, or which had not been compre- 
hended in the arrangements made by the framers 
of the Constitution. It is rather to be assumed that 
there is no evil which is beyond the reach of the 
church ; no iniquity which is to be permanently and 
perpetually tolerated because the fathers who made 
the Constitution were not sagacious, wise, and fore- 
seeing enough to anticipate its existence, or to 
embrace it in the provisions which they made for 
removing evil. 

Nor is it to be assumed, because the same thing 
existed wdien the Constitution was made, and was 
tolerated then, that therefore it is always to be 
tolerated. This would be to make the framers of 
the Constitution more keen-sighted and sagacious 
than any framers of a constitution have ever been, 
and would be to place them on an eminence in 
authority which it would be difficult to distinguish 
from infallibility. It is certainly a supposable case 
that the sentiments of the world on moral subjects 
may undergo a change for the better, bringing them 
nearer to the proper standard of truth; that a thing 
may be regarded as innocent in one age which the 
subsequent age may justly see to be fraught with 
criminality; that a custom may prevail in one age 


which a more just application of the principles of 
the Bible would lead men to abandon; and that an 
evil may be so intrenched and fortified in one age 
that it would be hopeless to attempt to remove it 
then, which, nevertheless, a subsequent age might 
regard as wholly opposed to the gospel, and wholly 
at war with the best interests of mankind. It is un- 
necessary to show that in reference to many wrongs— 
to duelling, to intemperance, to the slave-trade, to 
the rights of rulers, to the relation of the church to 
the state, to lotteries, to civil obligations — the sen- 
timents of the world have so changed as to make it 
necessary to adjust existing forms and constitutions 
to those changes ; to make such changes as to ex- 
press the just opinion of a more enlightened age, 
and not the sentiments of a dark and barbarous 
generation. A man should not assume, therefore, 
because slave-holding has been at one time tolerated 
in the church, that therefore it is always to be tole- 
rated; that because it existed when the Constitution 
of the church was formed, therefore it is to be tole- 
rated always ; that because it was once esteemed to 
be right, it is always so to be esteemed. Nor can it 
be assumed by any one that because he or his father 
entered the church with an implied understanding 
that it was not inconsistent with a good and regular 
standing in the church, therefore it is to be assumed 
that it is always and in all circumstances to be re- 
garded as consistent with a good and regular stand- 
ing in the church. To deny these principles would 
obviously be a certain mode of preventing progress, 
of shutting out the benefit of the light of advancing 
ages, of petrifying error and sin, and of leaving the 


church far in the rear, in the questions of morals, of 
what might be the actual condition of the outside 
world. What would have been the effect of making 
such an unchangeable constitution in the time of 
Abraham, of Jacob, or of David, — in the time of 
Constantine or Charlemagne, — in the time of 
Abelard and Duns Scotus? As a matter of fact, 
however, every constitution makes provision for its 
own modification. The Constitution of the United 
States maybe amended in a specified manner; so 
may also the Constitution of the Presbyterian 

It may be asked whether it is desirable or right 
to be connected with an organization that seems to 
be encumbered in this manner, and which may, by 
its positive influence, or by declining to act in a 
right manner, contribute so much to sustain and 
perpetuate evil in the w 7 orld. 

To this question it is obvious to reply that an 
organization, — an association under a constitution, — 
whatever incidental evils may be connected with it, 
may be most powerful for good. It is better for men 
to act together than to stand alone and to act indepen- 
dently. An organization will bear more efficiently 
on an evil in removing it than the same number of 
individuals which compose it would or could if they 
acted wuthout concerted action ; or, in promoting 
good, will be the more efficient and certain, if it is 
regulated by constitutional rules or by a constitution, 
than if it is irregular, fitful, spasmodic. Hence, a 
church is more efficient in a community than the 
same number of individuals which compose it 
would be without an organization; and hence, 


under the constitutions in the respective States of 
this Union, and in the United States considered as 
one, the rights of men are more safe, and the ends 
of society are better secured, than they could be 
if there were no constitution, or than they could be 
under an arbitrary rule or in a state of anarchy. 
In reference to all personal rights of liberty, con- 
science, property, religion, a constitution is inva- 
luable; and the point which men reach in the 
progress of society is indicated at once by the 
answer to the question whether the government 
under which they live is constitutional or whether it 
is despotic. It does not appear that a constitution 
may not be as valuable in the church as in the 
state, — in reference to the spiritual as to the tem- 
poral interests of men. 

It is still a question, however, whether, when a 
church does not take the stand which it ought to do 
on the subjects of temperance, liberty, humanity, 
or doctrine, it is better to remain in it, or to leave 
it, — to attempt to bring it to a right position, or to 
forsake it and seek another organization, — to en- 
deavour by constitutional changes to induce others 
to act with us, or to bear an isolated and inde- 
pendent testimony against the evil ? Is it (to apply 
these remarks to the case before us) better to remain 
in the Presbyterian church, with the views which it 
has expressed on the subject of slavery, and with the 
fact before the mind that slavery does exist to some 
extent among its members, and that as yet no effi- 
cient discipline has been adopted to detach the 
church from it, or to withdraw from it on that ac- 
count, thus, by the act of withdrawing, bearing a 


decided testimony against the system, and seeking 
elsewhere the liberty of more decided action in 
removing the evil? Does not a man, for example, 
with the views which I have expressed in this 
paper against slavery, violate his conscience and sin 
against Christ by lending to the system the ap- 
parent countenance and support which the fact of 
his continued connection with the church seems to 
furnish? Does not such a man, in fact, lend the 
influence of his name, whatever it may be worth, to 
the support of the evil, and practically contribute to 
keep it up in the world ? 

To these questions I would reply, in general, that 
there may be cases, undoubtedly, where it is a man's 
duty to separate himself from a corrupt organiza- 
tion, and to bear the testimony against the evil 
which would result from the fact of leaving such an 
organization. He is so to act as not to become, by 
any fair construction, ' a partaker of other men's 
sins.' If his connection with a church necessarily 
implies that he approves of the errors which it 
contains, — if it interferes with freedom of worship, 
— if the church is wholly heretical or corrupt, — 
if there is no possibility of reforming it, — if his 
influence will be wholly lost for good while he 
remains in it, — if the church is making no pro- 
gress toward a better state and can not be moved 
to do it, — then the path of duty might be plain. So 
Luther and Calvin, acting on such injunctions as 
those in Rev. xviii. 4, 2 Cor. vi. 16, 17, Isa. xlviii. 
20, came out of the Roman communion ; and so 
cases may undoubtedly occur now in which a 
church is so corrupt as to make a longer continu- 


ance in it inconsistent with every sentiment of duty 
which a man owes to God. 

But, in reference to the specific question whether 
a man holding strong anti-slavery views should, on 
that account, detach himself from the New-school 
Presbyterian church, let the following thoughts be 
su£°;ested : — 

(a) A man's position as an individual on the 
subject of slavery, as well as on all other subjects, 
may be defined and well understood. There is 
nothing to prevent the full expression of his own 
sentiments on the subject, either in debate, or in 
the pulpit, or by the press, — in any way, in fact, 
that he may choose, public or private. We have 
seen that in the New-school Presbyterian church, 
whatever may be true in regard to other churches, 
the utmost latitude of debate is allowed; the most 
free expression of opinion on the subject of slavery 
is consistent with what are understood to be the 
well-defined views of the church. A man, if wholly 
detached from this church, could not expect or 
desire the right of a more full and free expression 
of opinion; and, in fact, it is presumed that every 
man's opinions on the subject are well understood. 
By his connection with the church, moreover, he is 
not responsible in any way for what another man 
utters ; and so far as the power of bearing testimony 
is concerned, and so far as a man's influence goes, 
and so far as he chooses to put forth, alone or in 
connection with others, any efforts for the removal 
of the evil, he could not expect or desire greater 
independence in speaking or acting than he can 
enjoy in connection with the New-school Presby- 


terian church. As one illustration of this, I may 
remark that I pen these sentiments and send them 
forth with as much conscious freedom, and with as 
certain a conviction that I shall he free from all 
molestation in the church on account of them, as I 
could do if I were wholly unconnected with this 
church or any other, with as perfect liberty of 
speech as any professed abolitionist could desire. 

(b) Again. A man may greatly weaken his influ- 
ence by detaching himself from a church. There 
is, indeed, as I have stated before, a point where it 
becomes a plain matter of duty for a man to with- 
draw from a corrupt and a degenerate church, — 
when there is no hope of its reformation, and when 
his continuing hi it must be construed as an appro- 
bation of its course; but up to that point a man 
weakens his influence in a good cause by with- 
drawing from it. He, indeed, bears his testimony 
against the evil opinions in the church, or its cor- 
rupt practices, by separating from it; but he be- 
comes an isolated individual; he loses all the power 
derived from association ; he cuts himself off from 
what will be regarded, as long as he is connected 
with the body, as a right, — that of endeavouring to 
exert an influence on the body ; he deprives himself 
of all power of effecting a reformation in the body 
itself. Other things being equal, an associated 
body will listen much more readily to the sug- 
gestions of one of its own number than it will to 
what will be regarded as the intermeddlings of 
those not connected wuth it. A man has more in- 
fluence in his own family than a stranger can have ; 
and he who wishes to reform men should connect 


himself with them by as many and as tender ties as 
circumstances, his ability, and his conscience, will 
allow. Thus, the Redeemer of the world sought to 
reform men, not by standing at a distance and de- 
taching himself from all connection with the race, 
but by becoming himself a man and mingling 
freely with men, even though it subjected him to 
the charge of receiving sinners and eating with 
them. It would be easy, were it proper, to refer to 
cases where men have withdrawn from a church 
because it was worldly-minded, or because it held 
opinions which they could not sanction, who 
have lost all their influence in that church with 
reference to its reformation, and whose personal 
influence in the cause of religion itself has been 
greatly diminished, if not destroyed, by their as- 
suming an independent position, or by their con- 
necting themselves with another body of Chris- 

(c) It should be remembered, also, that an organi- 
zation for the promotion of any good object is in 
itself valuable. A man adds greatly to his own in- 
dividual strength by associating himself with others. 
The strand that would be weak in itself becomes 
strong when twisted with others into a cable ; a co- 
lumn that would fall if alone strengthens itself when 
placed amidst others; a soldier adds greatly to his 
own strength by being united with others in the 
discipline of an army ; a member of a corporation 
of any kind greatly adds to his own power by being 
combined with others. There are numerous things 
to be done in a community which can be done only 
Dy combination and co-operation; and hence men 


combine in railroad companies, in eleemosynary so- 
cieties, in missionary associations, in the temperance 
cause, in insurance companies, in joint-stock opera- 
tions, and in the anti-slavery cause. The organiza- 
tion which composes the Christian church is one of 
the best-arranged and the most efficient in the 
world; and I presume it will be admitted that if 
that were what it should be, according to its original 
design, none could be found that would be more 
serviceable in its power of removing slavery from 
the world. In itself considered, it is a matter of 
great importance, if it can be done, to bring any 
church to a just position on this and on all other 
great moral subjects. 

(d) Further. The influence of the ^New-school 
Presbyterian church is not in favour of slavery; and 
a man does not become its advocate and abettor by 
being connected with that church. If the line of 
reasoning pursued in this essay is correct, then it is 
undoubtedly true that, with perhaps the exception 
of the Quakers, there is no church, in this land or in 
other lands, whose testimony has been more uniform 
or more decided against slavery, whose position is 
better defined, whose aims are more clear, which 
has pursued the subject so far, or which has gained 
so advanced a position in regard to the evil. A man, 
by becoming a member or a minister of that church, 
practically avows those sentiments as expressing his 
own views, and places himself in this position before 
the world. He becomes connected with a body 
which has never uttered one word, as a body, in 
extenuation of slavery or in apology for it, and 
w T hich for more than fifty years, by every form of 


public testimony, and by a regular train of measures, 
has declared its purpose to do all that can be done in 
a Christian manner to i efface this blot on our holy 
religion,' and to effect the ' entire abolition of slavery 
throughout Christendom, and, if possible, through- 
out the world.' As a matter of fact, it is never sup- 
posed at the South, nor by any fair construction at 
the Korth, that a man is a friend of slavery, or dis- 
posed to apologize for it, when he connects himself 
with that church. He would, at least in many 
quarters in our country, be much more likely to 
subject himself, by such an act, to the charge of 
being an abolitionist; and, if he wished to preserve 
himself from all suspicion of being an abolitionist, 
he would sooner connect himself with any other 
of the large denominations in the land than with 

(e) One other remark should be made in reference 
to the question whether a man holding strong anti- 
slavery sentiments should remain connected with 
that body, or should detach himself from it. It is, 
that he would ultimately gain nothing by connecting 
himself with any other denomination. There is, 
indeed, a calm — a most melancholy calm — on this 
subject now in the Episcopal church, in the Old- 
school Presbyterian church, and in the Baptist deno- 
mination. There is a most melancholy zeal for 
'conservatism,' and there is much tact evinced in 
keeping this subject from agitating their churches, 
and no little self-glorying among themselves that 
they have been able to exclude the subject from 
their • ouncils, and, to a great extent, from their pul- 
pits P&* fyM tflm. will not last always. There is 


a spirit abroad in this age which demands that this 
subject shall be discussed, and that the church shall 
take some definite position in regard to it ; and there 
are men in each of those bodies who will not always 
be satisfied with ' conservatism' and with a display 
of worldly wisdom in excluding this great subject 
from their deliberative assemblies and from their 
pulpits. There are men who can now with difficulty 
be restrained by ecclesiastical trammels, and who 
will not long consent to look with indifference on 
the fact that three millions of human beings, re- 
deemed by the blood of Christ, are held as property 
in this Christian land, and denied the rights which 
God designed should be conferred on all the mem- 
bers of the human family. There are men who 
will not feel satisfied in their consciences with an 
effort to deliver the people of India and China 
and the islands of the sea from idolatry, while their 
own churches are indifferent to the fact that in their 
native land there are three millions of human 
beings deprived of their rights, kept in ignorance, 
deprived by law of the benefits of public instruction, 
and subjected to the evils and wrongs which slavery 
always engenders, and that many even of the mem- 
bers of their own churches sustain a very close and 
painful relation to the system. Sooner or later — 
and not very far distant in time — and the sooner the 
better — the subject will be discussed in each of 
those denominations ; and there are reasons, which 
need not be referred to here, for supposing that it 
will be done with far more peril than has been expe- 
rienced in the Xew-school Presbyterian church. If 
a man desires peace, he had far better remain in the 


New-school Presbyterian church, where the subject 
has been discussed and the battle has been fought. 

But, still, it is a very material question what further 
can be done in that church itself, consistently with 
the Constitution ? Is it possible to carry out the prin- 
ciples which have been avowed for fifty years, so as 
to secure the object contemplated at the outset, — 'the 
entire abolition of slavery,' — the ' effacing of this blot 
on our holy religion' ? 

In answer to these inquiries, I observe that the 
following methods are within the constitutional 
power of the church; and, if these were pursued, 
the entire removal of slavery from the church would 
be the certain result. 

1. The aim or object stated so explicitly in 1818, 
and repeated and avowed so often since, should be 
steadily pursued: — 'the entire abolition of slavery 
throughout Christendom, and, if possible, throughout 
the world.' If this avowed aim and object were con- 
sistent with the Constitution in 1818, it is consistent 
now; if it had the sanction of the men who framed 
the Constitution, — as it did, — then it is consistent 
that men in the church should lend their sanction 
to it now. If it was a proper aim in 1818, when 
slaves in this country were comparatively so few in 
number, and when the system had extended over so 
small a part of what now constitutes the United 
States, it cannot be improper now, when the number 
has multiplied to three millions, — as large a number 
as all the freemen of the land when the indepen- 
dence of the country was achieved, — and when tracts 
of territory have been subjected to the curse larger 
than any of the kingdoms or empire;: of the Old 


"World, with the single exception of Russia. Time, 
therefore, and the course of events, have done nothing 
to make this aim improper, whatever they may have 
done to make it more difficult. Yet it is much for 
a church, as it is for an individual man, to have a 
definite aim and object, to have its purpose under- 
stood, to have a position which is not susceptible of 
misinterpretation, to have the eye directed to some 
one great purpose that lies in the path and that is to 
constitute the goal of its subsequent achievements. 

2. The power of testimony. Xo one can doubt 
that this is constitutional; for the experience of 
more than fifty years has shown that it accords en- 
tirely w r ith the spirit of the Constitution. The only 
question is whether a sufficient testimony has not 
been already borne on the subject, and whether it 
would not now rather hinder than promote the end 
in view, to reiterate this from year to year. 

I have shown what the testimony of the church 
has been. It has been steady, uniform, consistent. 
It has been so often repeated, and repeated in lan- 
guage so unambiguous, that the world cannot mis- 
take its import. And yet the power of ' testimony' 
on the subject may not be exhausted. It is much to 
keep the facts of the existence of the evil before the 
public mind ; and a ' testimony' borne on any sub- 
ject by successive bodies of men, though it may not 
add much to the argument, may add much to the 
moral force of the testimony itself. It is the expres- 
sion of the deep conviction of a body of men called 
to look at the subject once more, and once more 
called to consider the evil and to inquire whether 
it cannot be removed ; it is the voice of living men 


added to the admonition of the dead, giving, in addi- 
tion to their own personal or collected influence, a 
new utterance to the sentiments of venerated men 
now in their graves, — men who, if they were to rise 
again, would utter the admonition in tones still 
more deep and solemn from the fact that half a 
century has passed away, and that the evil which 
pained their hearts while living has been steadily 
increasing, and that so large a portion of the church 
still slumbers over it. 

At the same time it should be remarked that 
there is great poicer in bearing testimony against an 
evil. It is much to call the attention of good men, 
and bad men also, to their own course of life, or to 
existing evils with which they may be connected 
and for the existence of which they may be in 
any way responsible. It is much to appeal to their 
consciences, to suggest means for a removal of the 
evil, to remind them of their own responsibility in 
the matter, and to urge reasons why the evil should 
be removed. It was owing in a great measure, if 
not entirely, to the influence of such testimony, that 
the society of Friends in this country was enabled 
to detach itself wholly from slavery and to take that 
honourable position which they now hold on this 
subject. Xot a blow was struck, not a hard or 
harsh word was uttered, not a member was ex- 
cluded on account of his connection with slavery, 
not an act of discipline was performed. Truth 
often and long repeated made its way to the hearts 
of conscientious men, and of their own accord they 
separated themselves forever from the system, and 
not a slave is now held by a Quaker in the land. 


3. A free discussion of the subject is in the power 
of the church, and is in entire accordance with the 
spirit of our religion and pre-eminently with the 
principles of Presbyterianism. It has cost much in 
the history of religion to establish the position that 
every subject may be discussed. It is the result of a 
long conflict that this point has been reached ; but 
it has been reached. It is the result of the great- 
est struggles in history — it is a consummation 
sought by ages of conflict— that all subjects in mo- 
rals, in science, in political matters, and in religion, 
should be open to free inquiry. The point has been 
gained in this country ; it will ultimately be gained 
throughout the world. This is a settled principle 
in the Xew T -school Presbyterian church ; a prin- 
ciple for which it has strenuously contended; a 
principle which nothing can compel that church 
to relinquish. That it is a fixed and settled prin- 
ciple in that church has been manifested in an 
eminent manner in regard to the very subject now 
before us ; for there is no one subject in relation to 
which there has been so strong an effort made to 
secure it from being discussed in our country ; there 
is no one that has been approached with so much 
difficulty ; there is no one in relation to which there 
would be so many inducements from expediency, 
conservatism, the desire of peace and union, to pass 
it by ; there is no one of great public interest which 
other denominations have so studiously avoided ; 
and yet, as I have shown, there is no subject which 
has been so often, so fully, and so fearlessly dis- 
cussed in the New- school Presbyterian church as 


Now, there is much power in removing an evil in 
mere freedom of discussion. It is much to have it 
understood that all its bearings may be examined, 
and much to have it understood that, if it cannot 
be defended by argument, it is to be abandoned. 

More than in any other body in our country, 
civil or ecclesiastical, is this a power which may be 
wielded in the New-school Presbyterian church. 
By the nature of the Constitution of the body, if the 
system cannot be defended by argument, it is un- 
derstood that it must be abandoned. It is a p>ossible 
and a svpposahle tiling that the subject may be so 
discussed, so clearly shown to be an evil, that those 
most interested in slavery — those who are now 
involved in slave-holding — may be induced, of their 
own accord, to abandon it. Evils have been aban- 
doned by good men, as the result of conviction, even 
at great pecuniary sacrifices; and it is right and 
best to assume that this may be done still. Comp. 
Acts xix. 18-20. 

4. In the New-school Presbyterian church it is 
now a settled principle — so far as the acts of the 
Assembly go to establish that principle — that 
< slaveholding' should be treated as an ' offence,' in 
the proper and technical sense of the term, — that 
is, as a relation subjecting a man to the discipline 
of the church, — unless he can show that in his case 
it is rendered necessary by the laws of the state, 
the obligations of guardianship, and by the demands 
of humanity. But, by the Constitution, it is sup- 
posed that any offence maybe reached; that there 
is a regular process by which a man charged with 
an 'offence' may have the opportunity to excul- 


pate himself, or may be subjected to the discipline 
of the church. 

It is true that there may be c offences' which, 
after all, it may not be easy to reach. It may be 
so difficult to obtain testimony, or there may be so 
much reluctance to commencing an accusation, or 
it may be so difficult to reach the ' offence' on the 
charges of < common fame,' or the community 
where the evil exists may be so implicated in the 
evil, or there may be so much capital invested in 
it, that it may be difficult to bring it by regular 
process before the judicatories of the church. It 
is easy to conceive that this might be the case 
in regard to the manufacture, the sale, or the use 
of intoxicating drinks; or the vending of lottery- 
tickets; or investment of capital in modes of busi- 
ness that involve a violation of the Sabbath ; or 
conformity to the worldly amusements of the 
theatre, the circus, the opera, or the ball-room. 
But it is much that in any such case the matter 
should be clearly defined, and that it should be 
understood that there is a regular- way in which 
the offence might be reached. That there is such 
a way in the Xew-sehool Presbyterian church in 
regard to slave-holding is now a settled principle 
in that body. It is declared to be an 'offence;' 
and there is a regular and constitutional method 
by which any ' offence' may be brought before the 
proper judicatories of the church. Any man may 
institute a process; and when instituted the case 
would be, or might be, brought in a regular manner 
before the General Assembly as the highest judi- 
cial body in the church. Whoever chooses may as 


freely institute a process in this case as in any 
other case ; and the Constitution, according to the 
Report of the Committee of 1856, as adopted by 
the* General Assembly, has defined the way by which 
such a case may be reached and determined. 

5. In all communities under a government by a 
constitution, there is an express or implied power to 
amend the constitution if it be necessary. There is 
no earthly form of government that is to be re- 
garded' as necessarily fixed and unchangeable. In all 
written constitutions there is a power of amendment 
provided for by the constitution itself; and this is 
expressly the case in the Presbyterian church. It 
was apprehended that, in the course of events, 
there might be found to be defects in the instru- 
ment itself; that in the changes of society, in the 
progress of thought in the world, or in the further 
investigation of the Bible, it might be found neces- 
sary to modif\- some of the doctrines laid down, or 
to make new arrangements for the government of 
the church, or to reach new forms of evil that 
might spring up in the world. It is, therefore, 
by no means to be assumed, because any practice 
whatever was regarded as consistent with good 
standing in the church when the Constitution was 
formed and adopted, that it is always to be so re- 
garded, or that any rights are violated if what was 
once regarded as consistent with good standing 
should be afterward, by a regular change in the Con- 
stitution, be placed in the list of actions that consti- 
tute ' offences' and subject the often der to the disci- 
pline of the church. If, therefore, slave-holding was 
ever regarded as consistent with a fair standing in the 


church, or if it has been regarded as an institution 
to be perpetuated like the relations of husband and 
wife, guardian and ward, and if any churches were 
received to the connection of the church under that 
interpretation, it is perfectly competent for the 
church so to change the Constitution as to express 
a doctrine that shall be in accordance with the 
progressive spirit of the age and with a better inter- 
pretation of the word of God ; for all churches and 
church-members have entered the connection under 
a constitution which provides that such changes 
may be made. And if, in the changes of opinion 
in advanced times, it should become the conviction 
of the church that slave-holding is not consistent 
with the spirit of Christianity and the teachings 
of the Bible, and if this doctrine had not been 
expressed with sufficient clearness, the change ought 
to be made. If it were so, it ought to be as 
speedily as possible. On a subject like this there 
should be no ambiguity or uncertainty in the 
articles of the church. It should never be suscep- 
tible of a plausible suggestion that the constitution 
of a church does sustain slave-holding, or that it 
regards it as being in any sense whatever on a level 
with the relation of husband and wife, master and 
apprentice, guardian and ward. If such is the fair 
interpretation of the Constitution of the Presbyte- 
rian church, or if there is any such ambiguity in it 
as will give ease and comfort to the conscience of a 
member of the church who voluntarily and for gain 
sustains the relation of a slave-holder, the sooner 
the Constitution is altered or abandoned the better. 
No constitution ouo'ht to exist on the earth which 


would throw a shield over this gigantic evil, or 
which would lend the sanction of a Christian organ- 
ization, or the authority of a Christian rule, or the 
prestige derived from the Christian name, to the 
support of an institution under which three millions 
of human beings are regarded as ' chattels,' and are 
deprived of the rights of Christian freemen. 

For one, however, I do not believe that any 
change on this subject is necessary in the Constitu- 
tion of the Presbyterian church. The interpreta- 
tion of that instrument for a period of not far from 
fifty years, by which, as we have seen, the system of 
slave-holding has been condemned, in every variety 
of language, as utterly ' inconsistent with the spirit 
of Christianity and with the word of God,' and 'as 
a blot on our holy religion,' shows that, in the judg- 
ment of the great body of the church, there is no 
need of any change in the Constitution to bring the 
sin of slave-holding among the acts which subject 
oifenders to the discipline of the church. An un- 
disputed interpretation of an instrument for fifty 
years ought to be considered as settling its 

6. There remains one power still by which the evil 
may be removed from the church. It is the power 
by which the Quakers removed it from their body, 
— the power in the church of voluntarily detaching 
itself from the evil, — such a conviction of the evil as 
to lead all who are implicated in the system as 
speedily as possible to separate themselves wholly 
from it. 

What I mean by this is, that it is to be held to be 
practicable to induce those who are now implicated 


in slave-holding, voluntarily and without any coercive 
measures to separate themselves from the system, so 
that, under the power of conscience and the influ- 
ence of a strong public sentiment, the churches may 
be wholly detached from it. 

A few plain considerations may show that this is 
wholly within the power of the church, and that it 
is not altogether vain to hope that it may occur. 

(a) One is, that this result has been already 
brought about, in this way, by one large denomina- 
tion of Christians, — the Society of Friends. I re- 
gard the history of that society, in connection with 
this subject, as a very valuable and instructive 
chapter in the records of the church. It illustrates 
the power of 'testimony,' the power of conscience, 
and the power of patience and forbearance. It was 
not by a work of violence that they became free 
from all connection w T ith slavery ; it was a work of 
peace. It was not by harsh denunciation and 
unkind words; it was by love. It was not by di- 
rect acts of discipline; it was by the power of 
solemn appeals addressed to the conscience. It 
was not by coercive measures driven recklessly and 
rapidly through the body, rending it asunder and 
producing permanent alienation; it was the slow 
and patient work of years. Yet it was done. The 
process was effectual. The last cord that bound the 
members of that society to the system was severed, 
and the Society of Friends was the first in modern 
times which occupied a position which all Christian 
churches will yet occupy, — the noble and the ele- 
vated position of being entirely separate from any 
connection with slavery. Why should it not be sup- 



posed that there is a conscience among other Chris- 
tians as well as among them? "Why should it not 
be supposed that others may hear the voice of en- 
treaty from their brethren as well as they ? And why 
should it not be supposed that patient appeals and 
remonstrances may be as effectual in other cases as 
they were in theirs ? 

(b) Sufficient illustrations of this have already 
occurred in the Presbyterian church itself to lead 
us to hope that it may become more general, and 
even that it may become universal. It is by no 
means a very rare thing for ministers and members 
of the Presbyterian church to emancipate their 
slaves, even at what seems to be great personal and 
pecuniary sacrifice. If it were proper, it would be 
easy for me to mention the names of not a few min- 
isters of the gospel in the New-school Presbyterian 
church, who, having been born in the slave States, 
and having inherited slaves, have become impressed 
with the evil of the system, and have begun early 
to train their slaves for freedom, and have em- 
braced the earliest opportunity, when it could be 
done, to emancipate them. Some have done it who 
are now in the Northern States; some who still 
minister at the South. In the view of the world, 
and according to the 'market' estimate of that 
species of 'property,' — my pen almost refuses to use 
the word 'property' in that connection, even for the 
sake of illustration, — the pecuniary sacrifice has been 
very great : — in some instances amounting to many 
thousands of dollars, and in most cases amounting 
to manifold more than those have been willing to 
sacrifice for any benevolent object who have de- 


nounced the system and denounced their brethren. 
Eight as it is that men who hold others in slavery 
should set them free ; proper and Christian as it is that 
they who have enjoyed the avails of the unrequited 
labour of others for years should place those whom 
they have held in bondage in a condition where they 
may enjoy the avails of their own labour, yet it 
would be well for us to remember that it may imply 
some sterner principle to do this than it does merely 
to denounce the system, and that they who do it may 
be actually making a sacrifice greater by far than 
they who denounce them have ever done for any 
purpose of philanthropy. And yet there have been 
men — there are men — who are willing to make 
that sacrifice. What should forbid us to hope that, 
under the influence of an enlightened'sense of duty, 
the disposition to do this may become more general, 
and ultimately, and at no distant period, be univer- 
sal, — so that it may be proclaimed that the Presby- 
terian denomination, as well as the Friends, are 
wholly detached from the curse of slavery? — so that 
there shall be added to the practical testimony 
against the system that of another entire Christian 
denomination ? 

(c) It should be added that the number of 
churches connected with the New-school Presby- 
terian church in the slave States is comparatively 
small ; and it may be presumed that the number of 
slave-holders in each of them is small also. There 
are in the entire New-school Presbyterian church 
in the United States but three hundred and one 
churches in the slave States, and but one hundred 
and ninety-nine ministers, out of one thousand six 


hundred and seventy-seven churches, and one thou- 
sand four hundred and seventy-four ministers, con- 
nected with the entire body. There are but seven- 
teen thousand one hundred and forty-six members, 
out of one hundred and thirty-eight thousand seven 
hundred and sixty members. The great body of the 
ministers of the churches, and of the members of 
the churches, are therefore entirely unconnected 
with slavery in all its forms and responsibilities. 
But, further, it may be assumed safely that not one 
in ten, probably not one in twenty, of the ministers 
of the Southern churches, are in any form holders 
of slaves ; and, if the latter be assumed as the propor- 
tion, then the number of holders of slaves anions: 
the ministers would not exceed ten, and, for the same 
proportion, the number of members would not ex- 
ceed nine hundred. It should be remembered, also, 
that of the members of the churches a very large 
proportion is made up of females, of youths of both 
sexes, and of slaves themselves; and, when these 
circumstances are taken into the account, it will be 
seen at once that, while entire accuracy cannot be 
pretended in the estimate, the actual number of 
church-members who hold slaves must be an ex- 
ceedingly small proportion of the whole number. 
Considering all these facts, probably the whole num- 
ber of slave-holders in the Xew-school body is not 
one thousand out of nearly one hundred and fifty 
thousand members. It would have been very greatly 
to the credit of the Southern churches, and would 
have placed them in a much more desirable point 
of view from that which they now occupy, if they 
had given the information on this subject which the 


Assembly which met at Buffalo asked of them, but 
which they declined to give. It would have ap- 
peared, doubtless, and much to their credit, that the 
number of those who are in any way implicated in 
slavery at the South is much smaller than is com- 
monly supposed, and that there is among the mem- 
bers of the church in general much more care taken 
of the slaves, and much more attention to their 
spiritual good manifested, and much more done 
among church-members to guard the slaves from 
the operation of the severe laws in the slave States, 
than is commonly imagined, and that a large part of 
the charges alleged against them are calumnies. It 
would, doubtless, have been found to be true that all 
that has been said about the kindness of Christian 
masters is correct, and that the cruelty chargeable 
on the system in the South is not chargeable, to 
any considerable extent, on the members of the 
churches. There has never been any measure pro- 
posed that gave so favourable an opportunity for 
removing unjust prejudice, and allaying the bitter- 
ness of Northern feeling, and securing the sympathy 
and confidence of the North, as that measure was. 
There never has been an instance of a more striking: 
want of wisdom than was manifested in refusing 
to give that information. Since, however, it was 
withheld, we can only assume to be true what un- 
doubtedly would have been found to be true on 
the fullest information: — that the number of slave- 
holders in the church at the South is very small, 
and that among them there is a good degree of 
Christian fidelity in bringing them under, the in- 
struction of the gospel, and giving them facilities, 


even in the face of the laws, for reading the Bible 
and for the free worship of God. 

But, if thus small, is it a hopeless anticipation that 
the number may become still smaller? May it not 
be presumed to be possible that, under the influence 
of a strong public sentiment, the members of the 
churches may be induced to detach themselves 
wholly from the system ? Are we not at liberty to 
presume that there is such a power of conscience, 
when enlightened by the gospel, that it will lead 
Christians everywhere ultimately to "do unto others 
as they would that others should do unto them"? 
The same difficulty precisely existed in the case of 
the Quakers ; and may it not be presumed that the 
power of that gospel which among them was made 
to break the fetters of the slave may do the same 
thing in other denominations? For one, I do not 
despair of this. I believe that even now, with all 
that there is in the declared sentiments of many 
ministers and many editors of papers, and with all 
the apologies that are made for slavery in the Xorth 
or in the South, there is a silent power at work in 
the church which tends to universal emancipation, 
and which, under the present operation of things in 
the Presbyterian church, will sooner or later lead 
the churches to separate themselves wholly from 
slavery. It may be that, under the pressure of what 
some regard as severe measures, and of the fact that 
the subject is constantly agitated in the Xew-school 
body, some may withdraw from the connection and 
seek a connection with the Old-school, to renew the 
strifes which sooner or later must come up there ; it 
may be that some may become independent, and 


stand, as slave-holding churches, aloof from all others; 
it may be that out of the two Presbyterian bodies at 
the South there may be formed a Southern organiza- 
tion, with the hope of avoiding the controversy about 
slavery, and with the hope of enjoying the blessings 
of the institution unannoyed; but this, I am per- 
suaded, is not the result which is likely to occur in 
the great body of Christian churches in the South. 
Things tend to a better result. There is a spirit 
abroad in our land and throughout the world which 
wull have its influence there. There is a voice ut- 
tered everywhere against slavery so loud and so 
clear that it will ultimately be regarded. There are 
evils in the system so inseparable from it that good 
men will sooner or later detach themselves from it. 
There is so much in it that is contrary to the Bible, 
so much that is unlike the spirit of Christ, so much 
that interferes with the progress of the gospel, so 
much that tends to debase and degrade, so much in 
the treatment of others which men would regard as 
oppressive and wrong if practised toward themselves, 
their wives, or their children, that the system can- 
not always be sustained by the conscience of the 
Christian church. I believe that the Xew-school 
Presbyterian church has made a closer approxima- 
tion to this point than any other organized denomi- 
nation in the land, that it is a practicable thing for 
it to become entirely detached from the system, and 
that that point may be ultimately reached. Xo good 
man ou°;ht to wish to remain in the church if it 
could not be reached ; and, when reached, the Xew- 
school Presbyterian church will occupy a position 
more desirable, in respect to slavery and in respect 


to its facilities for spreading the gospel, than any 
other denomination in the land. When that day 
shall come, — when it shall be announced to the 
world that every member and minister in the Pres- 
byterian church is himself a freeman, and is free 
from all connection with slavery, — it will be a day of 
triumph, in respect to the church, equal to that in 
the fatherland, in respect to liberty, when, in the case 
of James Somersett, Lord Mansfield pronounced the 
memorable decision that " the air of England has long 
been too 'pure for a slave, and every max is free who 
breathes it."* God grant that the time may soon 
come when that noble principle of law may be pro- 
claimed throughout this whole land ! "What a tri- 
umph for freedom will that be, when that sentiment 
shall be uttered by a chief-justice of the Supreme 
Court of the United States ! — when the period has 
arrived in which one occupying that position shall 
place his name by the side of that of Mansfield ! 

* Campbell's "Lives of the Chief-Justices of England," ii. 321. 




I have thus considered all that I proposed to do 
in regard to the position of the New-school Presby- 
terian church on the subject of slavery. I shall 
finish what I designed, by a few observations on 
what seems to me to be the duty of the church at 
large in this land on the subject. 

(a) My first remark is, that the subject must be 
agitated and discussed in the churches, and it should 
be. It is one in which the interests of religion are 
so much involved; the church unhappily sustains 
such a relation to it; it does so much directly and 
indirectly to sustain the system, and the influence 
of the church on all moral questions is so great, 
that it is right that the subject should be considered 
in the churches; and it cannot be avoided. "What has 
occurred in the ISTew-school Presbyterian church 
will and should occur in the Old-school body, in the 
Episcopal church, in the Baptist churches, and in 
every large and small denomination in the land. It 
is not as a 'political subject that it is and should be 
agitated ; but it is because it bears on the cause of 
religion and is connected with the progress and tri- 
umph of Christianity that it is to be and that it 


ought to be considered. Let politicians, as it may 
please them, agitate it or not; let political econo- 
mists, as they may please, discuss it or not ; let men 
consider it or not in regard to the temporal pros- 
perity of our country ; yet, in its close and vital con- 
nection with religion, the churches have no option 
in the case, and it will be and should be forced 
upon them. The question is to be discussed, and 
should be discussed, whether it accords with the 
spirit and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ 
to uphold a system like American slavery, and 
whether the churches shall, even by their silence, 
lend their countenance to a system which now con- 
signs three millions of men, women, and children, — a 
number as great as the Hebrews were in Egypt, — 
to hopeless bondage. 

That the subject will be discussed and agitated in 
the churches, I think to be clear for these reasons : — 

1. The spirit of the age is against slavery; the 
world is against it. There is a spirit of freedom 
abroad which there never has been before; and 
there is a conviction of the essential wrong of sla- 
very such as there never has been before. Foreign 
churches feel more deeply on the subject than they 
have ever done before; and their appeals and admo- 
nitions to their Christian brethren in this country 
are more earnest and solemn and pathetic than 
they have ever been; and those appeals are not 
likely to be fewer in number or feebler in power. 
In my judgment, they are all projDer; and, though 
they may be sometimes couched in language that 
seems to be severe, aud though they are some- 
times met with coldness or thrown back as acts 


of intermeddling and impertinence, yet they are 
the appeals of earnest, sincere, and disinterested 
Christian men ; and they will be repeated, and they 
will be heard. The apologists for slavery in this 
land, and the abettors and the sustainers of the sys- 
tem, and all who plead for silence on the subject and 
for that kind of ' conservatism' which would keep the 
discussion of the subject out of the churches, set 
themselves against the firmest convictions of the 
Christian world, and attempt to occupy a position 
which cannot long be occupied. It cannot long be 
a fact that any Christian church will shut its eyes to 
the abominations of the system, or refuse to con- 
sider what can be done to deliver Christianity from 
any responsibility in upholding so enormous a 
scheme of oppression and wrong. 

2. There are men in all the churches who will not 
always be silent on the subject. They cannot, by 
any application of ecclesiastical rules, always be 
made to suppress the earnest convictions of their 
souls in regard to the wrongs of the African race ; 
and they will seek utterance for their convictions, 
and will make their voices heard. It is with great 
difficulty that such men can now be restrained from 
giving utterance to their deep convictions of the 
evil of slavery ; with great difficulty that they can 
be constrained by their silence to seem to lend their 
countenance to a system which, in their hearts, they 
deeply abhor. In the Old-school Presbyterian 
church, and in the Episcopal church, it requires all 
the power of an efficient and closely-compacted 
ecclesiastical organization, and all the influence of 
those who are disposed to hold the power of ruling 


in their own hands, to restrain them from giving 
utterance to their sentiments; and the constraint 
becomes more galling from year to year. Sooner 
or later the shackles which fetter such spirits will be 
broken, and these men will be free. Nothing can 
be more certain than that the power of public senti- 
ment will be so great as to constrain these bodies to 
admit this as a proper subject of discussion in their 
councils; and nothing can be more certain than 
that the time will come when in the one of these 
bodies the solemn sentiments of the Assembly of 
1818 will be reuttered with a voice that will be 
heard throughout all the borders of the church, and 
that in the other such views will become the preva- 
lent views of that body. 

That the subject should be thus agitated and dis- 
cussed, I believe, is in accordance with the spirit of 
the Bible and the spirit of the age. 

(b) My next remark is, that the subject of slavery 
should be everywhere treated as other sins and 
wrongs are. In the religious literature of the coun- 
try, in preaching, and in the general public senti- 
ment, this subject should find a place, just as intem- 
perance, Sabbath-breaking, and lotteries, do. It 
should be introduced into the pulpit, not in its 
political aspect, but in its bearings on religion, as 
one of the causes which hinder the progress and 
triumph of Christianity in the world; and in the 
same way it should be approached in our religious 
literature. In any other aspect its discussion has no 
place in the pulpit, and should have none in the 
religious literature of our country; but in this re- 
spect it should have a place, just as any tiling else has 


that hinders the progress of the gospel of Christ. 
It is undeniable that there must be a great change 
in our religious literature before this point is 
reached. Xo one can fail to perceive that there 
is now a marked distinction made between this and. 
other evils and wrongs that stand in the way of the 
gospel. Others are discussed freely. They are ap- 
proached without the fear of giving offence, and 
with no desire to palliate the wrong. In the Tract 
Societies, in the publications of the Sunday-school 
Union, in the pulpit generally, in a large part of the 
religious papers of the country, the subjects of in- 
temperance, gambling, lotteries, profaneness, Sab- 
bath-breaking, infidelity, skepticism, are approached 
without any desire to avoid them, and with no 
manifested fear of giving offence. They are met as 
they should be : — not in their political relations and 
bearings, but in their relation to the salvation of 
men. But this one great evil, — this system, under 
which more than three millions of human beings 
are held in hopeless bondage, — this system, (I speak 
of the 'system,' not of the feelings of many who are 
connected with it,) which treats man not as man, 
and not as capable of redemption, but as a 'chattel,' 
as a 'thing,'— this system, which does at least as much 
in this country to hinder the progress of the gospel 
of Christ, and which involves as many violations of 
the law of God, as either intemperance, gaming, lot- 
teries, Sabbath-breaking, skepticism, infidelity, if 
not as much as all combined, — is systematically, 
and on principle, excluded altogether from a large 
part of the religious literature and a large part of 
the pulpits of the nation. The slightest allusion 


to it as an evil is suppressed ; books that refer to 
it as an evil are expurgated, that offence may not 
be given to the friends and abettors of slavery; 
and newspapers professing to be religions are pro- 
jected and issued on the avowed doctrine that the 
subject is never, in any way, to be alluded to. As 
a matter of simple fact, also, some of the most 
powerful of all the organizations in the land for 
the diffusion of a religious literature exclude this 
subject entirely; and, though they speak freely of 
every other sin and wrong, they are wholly silent 
on this stupendous wrong done to the bodies and 
souls of men. So far as the influence of those or- 
ganizations go, — and it is very far, — the practical 
operation of that influence is to create the impression 
that this is not an evil and a wrong, and that it does 
not so interfere with the salvation of men and the 
progress of the gospel as to claim the attention of 
those who are organized into powerful religious 
associations, and who have vast public funds placed 
at their disposal for the spread of truth, and for ad- 
vancing the kingdom of God on the earth. 

]STo\v, what the spirit of the age and the spirit of 
the gospel, as I understand it, demand, is not that 
the subject of slavery should have any undue promi- 
nence in these discussions; not that it should be 
forced into the publications of the Tract Society and 
the Sunday-school Union; not that it should occupy 
the sole place in the pulpit; but that it should be 
treated just as all other acknowledged evils and icrongs 
are : — as contrary to the gospel of Christ, as pre- 
venting the salvation of men, as a violation of the 
spirit of the gospel, and as an evil not to be per- 


petuated, but to be removed. For one, I am weary 
— and I am sure that in this I speak the sentiments 
of many thousands of others — of the perpetual de- 
ference shown to the holders of slaves in the pulpit 
and in the religious literature of the land. I am 
weaiy of the care taken, more than in other cases of 
wrong, to conciliate their favour and to avoid giving 
them offence. I am weary of the anxiety evinced 
that every approach to this subject, in so large a 
part of the literature of the land, should be cut off, 
and that at so many points we meet this as a matter 
that is by common consent to be regarded as in- 
approachable. Why should this be so? How has 
it happened that in a Christian land mighty organi- 
zations have grown up, with vast power and wealth, 
from which all reference to slavery is excluded on 
principle, and that it is impossible, through any 
national organization, though having their seat in 
the Xorth and sustained chiefly by Xorthern funds, 
to utter one word — yes, one word — in behalf of 
the slave ? — one word, even to a Christian master, 
that shall direct his attention to his duty to a 
fellow-man that he holds in hopeless bondage ? — one 
word to induce him to treat him in all respects as 
a brother for whom Christ died? It is clear to my 
mind that a great change should be effected on this 
subject in the Christian literature of the land, and 
that in religious newspapers, in the publications of 
the Tract Society and of the Sunday-school Union, 
and in all other publications, the subject of slavery 
should be approached -precisely as any other admitted 
evil and wrong is approached. 

The same is true in regard to preaching. I would 


not have the pulpit depart from its legitimate object. 
I would not have it placed on the same Leve] with 
the lyceum. I would not have it a, place of vitu- 
perative language or of declamation on political 
subjects. I would not have it a place where party 
politics should be discussed, or where the opinions 
of one political party should be defended, or where 
any political measures should be advocated. 1 would 
not have it a place where the interests of one scd ion 
of the land should be arrayed against another; nor 
would I have it abused so as to embitter one part 
of the country againsl another. I would not have 
it a place where disunion should be advocated; nor 
would I have it a place where union should be 
advocated at the expense of justice, mercy, hu- 
manity, liberty. The pulpit is a place where every thing 
should be disci i ssi <l, in i/s i>r<>i«f proportions, thai bears 
on the progress of religion and the sulfation of mm. 
Every thing that tends to promote religion should 
be defended and enforced; everything that hinders 
it should be rebuked and condemned. There is no 
subject whatever which bears on the subject of human 
salvation thai can properly escape the notice of the pul- 
pit. There is nothing that can claim to be exempted 
from that, however shielded and protected by laws 

and by the established customs of a nation, or how- 
ever incorporated into civil constitutions, that tends 
to destroy the soul, or in any way to hinder tin'. 
progress of the gospel of Christ. 

These are plain principles; and they are such as 
it would seem must meet the approval of all who 
believe the gospel to be from heaven and to be 
necessary tor the salvation of men, and who believe 


that the Christian ministry is appointed to defend, 
illustrate, and enforce all that G-od has revealed 
in the gospel. .And, if these are true principles, <»n 
what pretence can il be maintained thai the subject 
of slavery should never be introduced into the 
pulpit? Can il !><> doubted that a system under 
which three millions of human beings for whom 
Christ died are lu-ld to l»< i c property' in a Christian 
land; which deprives them of all civil rights; which 
appropriates the avails of their labour to the use 
of others who have no shadow of claim to i1 ; which 
makes the marriage-tie a nullity; which makes the 
separation of husband and wife not only :i possible 
but a com 1 1 ion thing; which places the time and 
mode of their worshipping their Maker < ntin. ly al the 
control of an irresponsible and perhaps an unprin 
cipled and an infidel master; which regulates every 
thing, not by the question of the claims of God and 
the rights of conscience, bui by the Question how 
much labour can be wrung oul of purchased services: 
— can il be doubted that this system has something 
to do with the progre i of the gospel in the world 
and the salvation of man ? Can i1 be doubted that 
it will have something to do in affecting the extent 
to which religion will prevail, and the purity of 1 1 Lat 
religion in the churches? [s il to be held thai the 
manufacture and sale of ardenl spirits will have 
something to do with the progress of the go pel and 
the salvation of men, and slavery nothing? Thai the 
vending of a few lottery- tickets is a matter of suf- 
ficient importance to claim the attention of the 
ministers of religion, and this nol ? Thai the amu n 
mcnts of the ball-room, the theatre, and the opera, 


should engage the earnest prayers and exhortations 
of the ministers of religion, and that the fact that 
three millions of human beings are held under such 
a system can have no claim on the attention of the 
ministers of Christ? Shall a horse-race, a bull-fight, 

O 7 

or even a duel, be deemed of sufficient moment to 
awaken the indignation and stir the soul of a 
minister of Christ, and this enormous system of 
injustice and wrong have nothing to awaken his 
sympathy and to enkindle his zeal ? Is the system of 
caste in India an evil greater than American slavery ? 
Is the voluntary burning of a few widows on the 
funeral pile, either as an obstruction to the gospel or 
as actual wrong, to be compared with this system ? 
Is the swinging on hooks or the painful postures of 
the body in Hindoo devotion an obstruction to the 
progress of the gospel at all to be compared in 
extent or in enormity with American slavery? And 
yet these, all these, are proper subjects, in their 
places, for the pulpit. These evils may all be de- 
scribed in every pulpit in the land, and for their 
removal prayers and supplications may be offered 
everywhere, because they hinder the progress of the 
gospel of Christ The friends of human freedom ask 
only that the subject of slavery, in its proper pro- 
portions, may be treated precisely in the same way. 

It is true that according to this view, and to every 
just view of the matter, the subject should occupy a 
much more prominent place in the pulpit in the re- 
gion where slavery prevails than where it does not. 
It is true that God has, in his providence, laid on the 
ministers of the gospel there a special responsibility, 
and made it especially their duty to endeavour to cor- 


rect the prevalent public opinion and to bring the 
gospel to bear on the heart and conscience of the 
master. It is true that the immediate and direct in- 
terest in the matter is with them. And it is true that 
the ministers of the gospel there have no enviable 
responsibility, and that they are under temptations 
which rarely assail good men, even in this world of 
temptation, not to do their duty : — to be silent on the 
subject, to become the apologists for slavery, or to 
leave the impression in their preaching that they 
regard the relation as substantially the same as that 
of husband and wife, and guardian and ward. But 
what if they do, or do not, their duty in the case ? 
Is the pulpit everywhere else to be silent on the sub- 
ject? Are we never to consider any evils in the 
pulpit except such as exist only within the narrow 
limits of our own parish? Are we never to illus- 
trate the great principles of the gospel of Christ? 
Are we never to remember that we have a common 
country, and that slavery affects the North as well 
as the South? Are we never to remember that 
slavery is represented in the National Legislature ? 
Are we never to remember "those that are in bonds 
as bound with them " ? Are we never to remember 
that there is on the statute-book of the nation a law 
most cruel and most iniquitous, and directly con- 
trary to the principles of the word of God, requiring 
us in the North, in the most harsh and unjust man- 
ner, to restore the fugitive slave, — the man who 
loves liberty as we do, — who seeks it as any one of 
us would do, — and who has as much right to it as any 
Northern or Southern man has to his own ? Are 
we never to remember that the character of the 


religion in this land is materially affected by the 
prevalence of slavery? Are we never to think of 
the impression which goes forth abroad in regard 
to our country? And are we never, while we go 
to convert the nations of Asia and the tribes of the 
desert, to think of the question which foreign 
churches and infidels propound to us : — why we, who 
are so zealous for the deliverance of other people, 
hold three millions of men and women and children 
in a condition that cannot be favourably compared 
with theirs ? "Why should not I, an American by 
birth, and having as deep an interest in the honour 
and welfare of my country as any other man, ever 
allude to the subject of slavery in the pulpit? Why 
should not I, in the place where God has ordered 
my lot, do all that Jean do to remove every thing 
that, from this cause and every other cause, hinders 
the progress of the gospel of Christ ? I would not, 
indeed, have this or any other subject made a 
hobby in the pulpit. I would not have ministers of 
the gospel go out of their way to discuss it. I 
would not have it discussed in its political or sec- 
tional bearings. But I would have it discussed 
precisely as any other subject is discussed in the 
pulpit: — never drawn in needlessly; never avoided 
when it comes fairly in the way in illustrating the 
teachings of the word of God. 

(c) One other thing should be done. The churches 
should detach themselves from all connection with 
slavery. They should be wholly separated from it. 
They should stand apart from it. If it is to be 
maintained in our country, it should not be by the 
churches of Christ; if it is to find advocates and 


defenders, it should not be there. The church, in 
relation to this, should occupy the same position 
which it does in relation to duelling or to gambling; 
the same which it seeks to occupy in regard to in- 
temperance and worldly amusements, — to the theatre 
and the ball-room. If the practices connected with 
those things are to be continued in the world, it 
is not to be by the aid of the Christian church; if 
they are to find abettors, it is not to be in the 
pulpit. "Whether they can live or not without the 
aid of the Christian church may be a question for 
those interested in them to determine; but, if they 
do live, it is to be without its countenance and 
support. They must look for their patrons else- 
where; and, whether they live or not, the friends 
of those things should not be able to rely on the 
support of the church. If they cannot live, it is 
to be because they have not vitality enough to 
sustain them when detached from the church of 

So it is to be in regard to slavery. The church is 
to detach itself from it wholly and forever. It is to 
withdraw from the system, and, so far as the support 
of the system is concerned, it is to be left to itself. 
If it has vital power of its own, — if it meets the 
wants of a worldly society, — if it so promotes human 
happiness, so contributes to industry, good morals, 
and the happiness of social life, as to be needful to 
the world, — it is to live by its own vital power, and 
not by life infused into it by the church of Christ. 
If it would die should it be separated from the 
church, it is to be suffered to expire. But whether, 
outside of the church, it is to live or to die, it is to be 

166 tiie cnimcn and slaveey. 

suffered to show what it is, and what it would be, 
if it derived no countenance from the church of 
God. Like every thing else which has no proper 
connection with Christianity, it is to he suffered to 
stand by itself, looking for no countenance whatever 
from the organization which Christ has set up with 
reference to his kingdom on earth. If it can stand 
by itself, let it stand ; if it cannot stand, let it fall, 
not leaning for its support on the redeemed church 
of God. 

Assuredly the church might thus be detached 
from slavery ; and in doing it, it would interfere with 
no man's rights, it would abridge none of the liber- 
ties which men may claim. If they choose to keep 
up the institution of slavery, it is a question for them 
to settle ; but, in doing it, in the name of all that is 
sacred and pure and holy and free, let them not be 
able to plead the authority or to rely on the aid of 
the church of Christ. 

How the church can detach itself from all con- 
nection with slavery is indeed a question for each 
one of the denominations of Christians to deter- 
mine for itself: but it can be done ; it must be done ; 
it will be done. The example of the Quakers shows 
that it can be done ; every thing in the onward pro- 
gress of events shows that it will be done. It may be 
done by each denomination peacefully. By prayer, 
by patience, by exhortation, by testimony, by the ex- 
ercise of charity and forbearance mingled with Chris- 
tian fidelity, by a growing conviction of the evil, 
by free discussion, by a deeper spirit of piety, the 
work may be done, — done by each denomination for 
itself; done by each family for itself; done by each 


individual for himself. In accordance with existing 
laws in the churches, or by such modifications of 
those laws as the age requires, it may be clone in each 
denomination in such a way that there shall be no 
violence, and that no man's rights shall be invaded. 
Is there any necessity that slavery should exist in the 
church ? Is there any such affinity in the church for 
the system that it cannot move through the world 
without invoking the aid of slavery? Is it a matter 
of fact that the church in its past history has attached 
to itself the institution of slavery, and that it has 
lent its aid to sustain it from age to age ? Is it a 
matter of fact that the church at large is now en- 
cumbered with this system, and that it contributes 
its support and lends the prestige of its name to keep 
it up in the world? Far from it. The church at 
large, as has been shown, has not been the sustainer 
and abettor of slavery; the church at large is not 
now. This is true of the Established church 
and the Dissenting churches of England; of the 
Presbyterian churches of Scotland; of the Reformed 
church in France and Switzerland and Holland; of 
the Lutheran churches on the continent of Europe ; 
of the Greek church, the Xestorian church, and the 
Roman Catholic communion; and, it is believed, of 
all the missionary churches throughout the world. 
The practical supporters of slavery in the Christian 
church are found only in the churches in the South- 
ern States of this Union ; and can it be believed that 
it is impossible for those churches to detach themselves 
from the system, and to stand before the world on a 
level with the other churches of the Redeemer? 
Are they doomed to a hopeless condition on this 


subject? Are they forever to feel the withering, 
blighting, paralyzing, miserable effects of slavery ? 
The church will be free. The time will come 
when in all this land every church shall be wholly 
and forever detached from all connection with slavery. 
Nothing can be more certain than this. The spirit 
of the age demands it; the religion which is pro- 
fessed in this land will ultimately secure it ; the spirit 
of our civil institutions will make this certain in 
the church; the onward progress of Liberty among 
the nations will compel the churches, if they will save 
the world from infidelity, to detach themselves alto- 
gether from slavery. Xothing can be more certain 
than that the period will arrive when in all this land 
there shall not be one church which will retain any 
connection with slavery ; when there will not be found 
one minister of the gospel to defend the system, to 
apologize for it, or to maintain that it is on the same 
level as the relation of parent and child, husband and 
wife, guardian and ward. Xo man can believe that 
the fair application of the principles of the gospel of 
Christ would perpetuate the system. In fact, even 
those who now apologize for it, and who maintain 
that the system is not inconsistent with the Bible, in 
general admit most freely that the full influence of 
Christianity would remove it; and they only ask 
us to allow them to make such an application in 
their own way, and not to precipitate by hasty action 
what would most certainly be effected by time and 
by the slow but certain influence of the religion of 




Supposing, then, that all the churches in this na- 
tion were wholly detached from slavery, the follow- 
ing consequences would follow : — 

1. The system itself could not long be sustained. 
There is not vital energy enough in the system to 
maintain itself in this age of the world if it received 
no countenance from the Christian church, and if 
that church were arrayed against it. There is no 
organized system of evil which could maintain a 
permanent position in this land if the whole church 
were arrayed against it, and if all the moral power 
of the church were employed to discountenance 
and remove it. If each of the great denominations 
of Christians in the land should first detach itself 
wholly from the system, and should thus bring the 
power of its own example to bear upon it, and if, 
in a proper way, the power of the church, through 
the pulpit, the press, and the private sentiments and 
lives of its members, were brought to bear upon it, 
no one can believe that the svstem would Ions: exist. 
It is thus in the power of the church, if it would, 
to secure, at no distant period, the entire abolition 
of slavery in this land ; and, having this power, it 
must be held responsible for its exercise. And if it 


be a fact that the church has the power, it is a most 
humiliating and painful reflection that that power is 
not exercised, and that this monstrous system can 
look for its support in any way to the church of God. 
2. If the church were detached wholly from 
slavery, it could engage consistently in the work of 
spreading the gospel around the globe. It is diffi- 
cult now to make it appear consistent for a church 
that aids and abets slavery to engage seriously in 
the work of missions. It is not easy to make it 
appear why the church should make war on caste in 
India, or why it should show peculiar zeal to carry 
the gospel to China, or why it should seek to con- 
vert the South Sea Islanders, when it sustains an 
institution itself not less baneful in its influence than 
any which exists in heathen lands. And it is diffi- 
cult to make it appear how this same gospel shall 
commend itself to the heathen abroad, when it 
shall come to be fully understood by them that the 
churches which show such zeal for their conversion 
lend their influence to sustain a system by which 
three millions of human beings are held to be 
^ property ; are subject to all the conditions of pro- 
perty, and are deprived of all the rights and privi- 
leges which Christians in their efforts to spread the 
gospel seek to impart to the people of other lands. 
It would be easy for the people of other Christian 
lands to reproach us for inconsistency in our zeal 
to spread the gospel among the heathen; and it 
would not be easy to reply to the reproach. With 
what consistency, it might be asked, can a nation 
engage in the work of missions to the heathen 
which systematically and on principle holds three 


millions of human beings in slavery ? What is the 
kind of religion which such a people would seek to 
introduce among the heathen and to substitute for 
the forms of superstition and idolatry which prevail 
there ? Would they seek to propagate a system of 
religion which maintains that it is right for the 
powerful to subjugate the weak? — which teaches that 
those for whom Christ died may be bought, and sold, 
and tasked, as beasts ? — which deprives a large por- 
tion of the population of the country where it prevails 
of all right to the avails of their own labour, and con- 
signs them to hopeless bondage? And what would 
be the advantage of substituting a religion where 
such views and purposes are avowed, for those sys- 
tems which now actually prevail in heathen lands ? 
How much better is the condition of the African 
slave in the United States than the condition of the 
inhabitants of China, or India, or Arabia, or Ar- 
menia, or Turkey? What advantage would there 
be in introducing into those lands a system of reli- 
gion which would make it certain that a large part 
of those who should dwell there would be consigned 
to hopeless bondage? — where, to keep down the in- 
nate love of freedom and the aspirations for liberty, 
all the sanctions of the new religion would be re- 
quired, and where it would be held and taught that 
one portion of mankind is to be regarded as 
'chattels' and as 6 property,' and to be degraded 
and debased by slavery forever t Even the heathen 
could see that it violates the fundamental prin- 
ciples of their own nature to attempt to spread a 
religion which proclaims such a doctrine. There is 
a teaching of their own nature, — of the Author of 


their being, — degraded as they are, which will pro- 
claim to them that such a religion cannot he from 
heaven ; and, could the matter be fairly proposed to 
them, they would not hesitate long between retain- 
ing their present systems, debasing as they are, and 
receiving one which would make debasement, igno- 
rance, and degradation perpetual. 

And who of those who have gone from this 
country as missionaries to the heathen would dare 
on heathen soil to advocate the views of the friends 
of slavery, or to maintain that the system of op- 
pression and wrong which exists here would be 
made perpetual by religion, and that the religion 
which they have come to propagate would doom one 
portion of the population of every land to hopeless 
bondage? Xot thus inconsistent are men when 
they go to preach the gospel among the heathen ; 
and among all the missionaries of the gospel in 
pagan lands there are probably none who are not 
enemies of slavery; none who would dare to incul- 
cate there the doctrines so often avowed in our own 
land, — that slavery is a ' patriarchal' institution, that 
the Xew Testament is not unfavourable to it, that it 
is not inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel of 
Christ, and that it is to be diffused and perpetuated 
as a relation of substantially the same kind as that 
of husband and wife, parent and child, guardian and 
ward. Soon, very soon, and justly too, would such 
apostles be given to understand, in every heathen 
land to which they might choose to go, that their 
services would not be needed there, and that their 
teachings would not be appreciated there. "What- 
ever might be the evils of their own systems, they 


would say that a religion like this could not he from 

8. The detaching of the church from slavery 
would remove one of the chief hinclerances which 
now prevent the spread of the gospel in the world. 
I suppose that no one can he so blinded as not to 
perceive — and I would hope that there are few so 
uncandid as not to admit — that slavery in our country 
presents many very serious obstacles to the propaga- 
tion of the gospel ; in other words, that it is much 
more easy to propagate the gospel amid free institu- 
tions than it is where a large portion of the population 
is held in helpless bondage, — their time, their skill, the 
avails of their labour, and even their persons, being 
wholly the 'property' of others, — and where the other 
portion sustains the relation of masters or owners, 
with all the acknowledged bad influence on industry, 
economy, and general manner of living, resulting 
from that relation. "Eo one could maintain that, under 
any circumstances, the institution of slavery was a 
desirable one to aid in the propagation of the gospel, 
or that it furnished any facilities for the reception of 
the gospel by a slave himself; and as little could it be 
maintained that the natural effect of the system on the 
master would be favourable on his part to the recep- 
tion of the gospel of Christ. £so one could be so mad 
as to suppose that the laws in respect to slavery in 
this country furnish any special facilities for the pro- 
pagation of the gospel among slaves, unless he were 
prepared to maintain that the laws of the Roman em- 
pire were specially favourable to the spread of Chris- 
tianity; and no one can suppose that the effect of that 
system of laws, and of the institutions existing under 


them, is favourable to the reception of the gospel 
by the masters or owners of slaves, unless he is pre- 
pared to maintain that the worst edicts of despotism 
in the Roman empire had some magic power in dis- 
posing the hearts of those who enacted them to em- 
brace a religion of purity, justice, and peace. No 
one could maintain that, in order to the rapid and 
certain spread of the gospel in the world, it would be 
desirable to anticipate its march among the nations by 
the establishment of just such a system of slavery as 
exists in the slave States of the Union, and to put the 
minds of men in heathen lands in the same position 
absolutely and relatively which exists in the case of 
American masters and African slaves. If any one 
were to maintain this, it would be difficult to see 
on what basis an argument could be conducted on 
the subject, or how there could be any admitted 
principles in common which would lead to a certain 

As little would it be maintained, I apprehend, 
that the religion which actually exists in the mind 
either of the master or the slave, so far as it can in 
any way be traced to slavery, or so far as it is modi- 
fied by slavery, is the most desirable kind of reli- 
gion, or is the best type of Christianity in the 
world. There arc owners of slaves vrho are Chris- 
tians. 2s o one can reasonably doubt this ; no one 
need be tempted by any rational views of the influ- 
ence of slavery to deny it. But it would be weakness 
and folly to maintain that their piety is in any sense 
the effect of slave-holding, or that the relation is not 
an unfavourable one to the propagation of the gospel, 
or that the feelings naturally produced by slavery on 


the master himself and on his family are unpro- 
pitious to the spread of Christianity. The master 
is pious not as the result of the system, but in spite 
of it; and he maintains the ascendency of piety 
in his own bosom not by any natural influence of 
slavery in engendering and cultivating religious prin- 
ciples, but amid many difficulties which spring out 
of the system, and which tend, to mar his religion. 
It is not desirable for a Christian, any more than it 
is for any other man, to be intrusted with the irre- 
sponsible power of a slave-holder; for his family, it 
is not desirable that they should be trained up 
under the influence of the passions and habits 
which the system of slavery engenders. Multi- 
tudes of pious parents feel that, in respect to the 
influences of religion, it is not desirable to train 
up their children amidst the institutions of slavery; 
and not a few, on this account, seek a home where 
slavery is unknown, — at the North. Multitudes of 
Christians feel that they as Christians would breathe 
more freely, and could more easily maintain the life 
of religion in the soul, if it were not for the con- 
stant bad influence on their own hearts resulting 
from the system of slavery. 

4. The advantage which would result in spread- 
ing the gospel through the world if the church 
were wholly detached from slavery may be seen 
from another point of view. One of its regular 
and unavoidable effects, wherever it exists, is to 
prevent any great efforts for diffusing the gospel 
either there or elsewhere. The labouring part of 
the population, which is made up of slaves, can con- 
tribute nothing to the cause of benevolence ; for they 


own nothing, — not even themselves or their children ; 
and little or nothing of the avails of their labour can 
be contributed to the cause by their masters ; for it is 
all needed to support their owners, and the families 
of their owners, who do not labour. What is the 
amount of money which is annually raised in the 
churches of this land where slavery exists for the pur- 
poses of Christian benevolence ? What proportion of 
the funds for the spread of the gospel in pagan lands, 
— for the preaching of the gospel in the destitute 
parts of our own country, — for the circulation of the 
Bible, — for a religious literature, — comes from the 
slave-holding States of this nation ? What proportion 
of the missionaries now in heathen lands have gone 
from the slave States ? As compared, for instance, 
with Christians in the free States, what are Christians 
in the slave States doing for the spread of the 
gospel in their land or in other lands? What does 
South Carolina do as compared with Massachusetts? 
What does Virginia do as compared with New York? 
And yet, so far as can be seen, the sole reason why 
they are not doing as much in this great cause is to 
be traced to slavery. Have they not a climate as 
genial, and a soil as fertile, as the dwellers in the 
North? Have they not natural advantages for 
commerce and manufactures equal to the North? 
Is the climate of South Carolina more severe and 
stern than that of Massachusetts, or is the soil 
naturally more forbidding and repellant? Is Vir- 
ginia sterile and barren by nature, or has it been 
made so by slavery ? Are Pennsylvania and New 
York more fertile by nature, or have they been 
made more productive by the labours of freemen? 


Is the fact that constant streams of beneficence flow 
out to bless the world from the New England 
States, and from New York, owing to the Northern 
soil? And is the fact to be traced to difference of 
climate or soil that, as our population rolls on toward 
the Western ocean, these streams of benevolence 
break out in the wilderness as a Northern population 
spreads over them, in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, 
and that all is still comparatively a desert and a 
waste where a Southern population diffuses itself 
over Alabama, and Arkansas, and Texas? It is 
owinc: to other causes. And the sole and sufficient 
reason of all this difference is, that the one portion 
is blessed with a freedom which accords with the 
gospel and which tends to develop the gospel in the 
soul of man, and that the other is cursed with a sys- 
tem of slavery which is a violation of every principle 
of the gospel and which tends to dry up every 
fountain of benevolence in the human soul. The 
one makes a country rich, and prompts to the right 
use of riches ; the other makes a country poor, and 
at the same time puts it out of its power to do what 
a free population may do, and adds this further curse 
that it makes the population indifferent to it. 

5. The effect of detaching the churches from 
all connection with slavery would be further seen 
in respect to the religion of the slaves themselves. 

No one need deny that there arc slaves, perhaps 
in large numbers, who are Christians. No one 
need deny that there are many who are now Chris- 
tians who would not have been if it had been their 
lot to remain in Africa, or if their ancestors had not 
been removed, even amid so much that was cruel 



and wrong, from their native land, and doomed to 
servitude. Xo one need deny that there are slaves 
who are, in all respects, eminent examples of the 
power of true religion in transforming the heart, 
enlightening the mind, enabling its possessor to 
hear trials with patience and resignation; and of 
its power in making them faithful in the relation 
which they actually sustain in life. But, while this 
is admitted, still, such questions as these are to he 
asked : — Is such religion to he regarded as in any 
manner the consequence or the legitimate fruit of 
slavery? Is this the general type of the religion 
of slaves ? Is the system such as is adapted to pro- 
duce and foster this kind of religion ? If it is, then 
should not we all regret that our lot is not that 
of slavery, and that our children are not nurtured 
under its henevolent arrangements ? 

Conceding, however, all that I have now conceded 
in regard to the fact that there are slaves who are 
truly and eminently pious, and who in their very 
humhle condition furnish an example which ought 
not to he lost on their masters, yet the following 
things will he admitted to be true by all who know 
any thing of the religion of slaves. 

(a) The system is unfavourable to religion. It has 
no provisions that are adapted to promote religion ; 
it has none of which Christianity can avail itself in 
propagating itself in the world. The whole system is 
an obstruction — a hinderance — to the progress of the 
gospel. Slaves, according to the system, are not their 
own ; their time is not their own ; the avails of their 
labour are not their own; their wives and children 
are not their own ; their Sabbaths are not their own ; 


their bodies are not their own ; their souls, so far as 
they can be made to subserve the interests of their 
masters, are not their own. They are dependent on 
others for leave to assemble together for the worship 
of God; for time to worship God in their own 'ca- 
bins ;' for the kind of religious teachers, if any, which 
they may have ; for even the use of the Sabbath as a 
day of rest and devotion. The system in this land 
contemplates, by a provision which all must admit 
to be necessary if slavery is to be perpetuated, that 
slaves shall not be taught to read, and that it shall be 
regarded in law and in fact as an act of felony for 
any one, unless it be their masters, to teach them to 
read the word of God. Their religion, therefore, is 
to be a religion of restraint and dictation, — a religion 
without the Bible,— a religion in fetters and chains. 
How can the free and true spirit of Christianity be 
developed in such circumstances ? 

(b) Though there may be true religion among 
slaves, yet, from the nature of the case and as a 
matter of fact, it must be a very imperfect develop- 
ment of the nature and power of true religion. It 
cannot be based on intelligence, when the reading 
of the Bible is prohibited ; and it must be, to a great 
extent, a religion not of principle, but of feeling. 
There may be fervour, warmth, ardour ; there may 
be excitement and noise ; but all the accounts of the 
actual religion of slaves agree with what from theory 
we should infer must be the case : — that their reli- 
gion, though it may be sincere and simple, is of the 
humblest order. The general impression of those 
best acquainted with it, as well as the testimony of 
travellers, goes to establish the fact which must be in- 

^ ^ 


ferred from the nature of the case, that, while there 
are many professors of religion among slaves, there 
is very little true piety; that many of them are 
strangers to it altogether ; and that in the cases where 
it does exist it is of the very humblest order. How 
can it be otherwise ? 

(c) In the nature of the case, also, their religion 
will be connected with a very low sense of the obli- 
gations of morality. As a general thing, can any 
reliance be placed on the virtue, the truth, the 
honesty, the fidelity, even of professedly Christian 
slaves? Is there, in fact, any such reliance reposed 
in them? There may be honourable exceptions; 
but they are exceptions. The whole arrangements 
in slave-holding communities proceed on the sup- 
position that no reliance can be placed, on the 
honesty, the faithfulness, the truth, even of the 
members of the churches who are slaves: Their 
testimony is not admitted in courts of justice ; no 
confidence is placed in them that they will be faith- 
ful to their daily task without the presence of a 
master or an overseer; every thing in a house and 
around a house is placed under lock and key; every 
.precaution is taken to guard them from escaping; 
and there is a constant fear expressed that even the 
best of their slaves may be excited to murder their 
masters. They are systematically, and on principle, 
prohibited from learning to read,* and, even when 

<< A 

All meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mu- 
lattoes mixing or associating with such slaves at any such meeting- 
house, or any other place, in the night, or at any school or school* for 
teaching them reading or writing either in the dag or night, under what- 


this provision is disregarded and they are taught to 
read, the most vigilant care is supposed to be neces- 
sary to prevent their becoming acquainted with 
those writings which acquaint men with their rights, 
and which tend to elevate them in the scale of moral 
being. Even among Christian slaves, the masters 
would not dare to allow the ordinary books on 
Christian morals to be circulated among them. 
Further: in the very condition of the slave, even 
under any influence of religion that can be brought 
to bear upon him, there is every possible inducement 
to dishonesty, falsehood, deception, and degradation 
in every form in morals. The slave, in spite of any 
views of religion which he has, steals: — that is, steals 
in the sense which the master puts on his act, but 
not in his own view of the matter ; for his master 
has defrauded him of his personal liberty and of the 
avails of his own labour, and why should he not take 
back for his own comfort a part at least of that 
which has by force and violence been taken from 
him? But what is such a religion worth? How 
little does it approach the view which we ought to 
take of the fur influence of Christianity ! How 
little is there in the religion of slaves to commend 
Christianity as a religion of .purity, truth, and virtue ! 
"What idea would men obtain of Christianity if they 
were to learn it from the moral conduct of slaves ? 
How can Christianity ever be so developed, to show 
what it is, and what it is designed to be, under such 
a system as that of American slavery? 

ever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an unlawful assembly." 
— 1 Rev. Code of Virginia, 434, 435. 


(d) There is nothing that can be introduced into 
the system that will serve to correct and remove 
these evils, and elevate the Christian slave to what a 
Christian should be. To him is assigned a very 
humble place in the house of God, even under the 
best circumstances; he has no control over his own 
time; he is not a master in his own family; he is 
held as the absolute property of another; and he 
can devote neither his skill, nor his influence, nor 
his time, nor the avails of his labour, in any proper 
sense, to the promotion of the cause of religion; for 
all of these are the property of his master. 

(e) As a matter of fact, these three millions of 
slaves, even if they were all Christians, could do 
nothing for the diffusion of Christianity in the 
world. They are the labourers of the South, — those 
on whom the South depends for its wealth. They 
constitute one-third of the whole population, and, in 
the theory of slavery, they labour to support the 
other portion of the population. Yet what do they 
do, what can they do, — what could they do if they 
were all Christians,- — in spreading the gospel of 
Christ? isot one of them could go to heathen 
lands to preach the gospel ; not one of them, on 
principle, has one cent that he can call his own, to 
give in order to send a tract, a missionary, or a Bi- 
ble, to heathen lands. Xow, take the same number 
of labourers at the North, and compare the influence 
which they may have, and do have, in spreading the 
gospel. As a matter of fact, no small part of the 
preachers of the gospel come from that portion of 
the population; no small part of all the missionaries 
of the world are raised up from among that class; 


no small part of all the contributions to the Tract So- 
ciety, the Bible Society, the Sunday-school cause, and 
the missionary cause, come from that class of men 
at the North. The portion of the community which 
in the aggregate does most for the support of those 
institutions are the labourers of the North, — the men 
who are doing substantially the work of the slaves 
of the South in respect to productive industry; 
while not one farthing, so far as is known, ever 
came into the treasury of a tract society, a Bible so- 
ciety, a Sunday-school society, or a missionary so- 
ciety, from all the three millions of slaves at the South, — 
and never will. Is there nothing in this to hinder 
the progress of the gospel? What ought not the la- 
bouring population of the whole Southern portion 
of this Christian land to contribute for the spread of 
religion in the world ? 

From such considerations as these, I infer that 
the existence of slavery presents one of the most 
formidable obstacles to the extension of pure Chris- 
tianity in our land; I infer that its removal would 
at once facilitate, to an extent which no man can 
estimate, the conversion of the world to the Saviour. 

6. If slavery were removed from the church, one 
of the most plausible arguments in favour of in- 
fidelity would be taken away. I have already re- 
ferred to the fact that slavery exists in the church, 
and that it is defended by the ministers of the 
gospel as a 'patriarchal' institution, and as not 
contrary to the spirit of the New Testament. 
These facts constitute one of the arguments against 


Christianity on which the rejecters of the Bible rely. 
I have already endeavoured to show that if a professed 


revelation did countenance slavery as a desirable in- 
stitution, and place it on the same level with the rela- 
tion of husband and wife, parent and child, guardian 
and ward, it would be impossible to convince the 
mass of mankind that it is from God. It would so 
impinge on great principles of our nature, so con- 
tradict the essential laws of our being, and be so 
at war with all our notions of the rights and the 
dignity of man and the suggestions of humanity, 
that it would be impossible to commend it to 
them as having claims to a divine origin. This 
would be rendered more and more certain as the 
world makes progress in civilization and freedom, 
and as the institutions of philanthropy become 
more and more established. Xo pretended revela- 
tion could secure a permanent hold on the faith 
of mankind which should declare polygamy lawful 
and proper; none that would encourage war; none 
that would defend the doctrine that there are differ- 
ent original races of men ; none that could be fairly 
employed in defence of duelling, piracy, or free- 
booting. A revelation, to secure the faith of man- 
kind, must be in all respects abreast of what the race 
will ever come up to in science, in liberal arts, in 
the arrangements that tend to promote the wel- 
fare of mankind, and in just notions of liberty 
and of the rights of man. It must do more than 
this. It must be in advance of the ordinary pro- 
gress of society in these things ; and the moment 
it could be proved that society, in any of these 
respects, is in advance of the pretended revelation, 
or that it would check and restrain the race in its 
onward progress, that moment the faith of men 


would begin to falter in regard to the pretended 
revelation; that moment it would lose its hold 
never to be regained. 

Such I believe to be the case in regard to slavery. 
The world is taking its position in respect to the 
rights of man. There is no principle that is better 
established in English law than that pronounced 
by Lord Mansfield, — that the air of England 'is too 
pure for a slave, and every man is free who breathes 
it.' There is no one principle that is becoming 
more firmly rooted in the conviction of mankind 
than that slavery is contrary to the law of nature ; 
that it is a violation of the inalienable rights of a 
human being ; that there cannot be property in man 
in the sense in which there is in a horse or an acre 
of ground ; that man cannot be deprived of liberty 
except for crime, and then only in due course of 
law; that a human being cannot be bought and 
sold as an article of merchandise may be; that 
every one has a right to the avails of his own labour; 
and that the relations of husband and wife, and 
parent and child, are too important and too holy 
to make them liable ever to be severed to promote 
the pecuniary advantage or to minister to the indo- 
lence of others. Among Christians the conviction 
is becoming more and more rooted in the under- 
standing and the heart that no institution or ar- 
rangement in society can be right which refuses in- 
struction to any human being, and that any system 
is and must be wrong which makes it necessary for 
the support of the system to withhold the Bible from 
any one for whom the Redeemer died. 

From these positions the world is never to go 


back. Whatever changes in society may occur, 
these points are fixed. Xo changes in human belief 
are in the direction of a retrograde course on these 
points; all future changes will tend more and more 
to rivet these convictions on the hearts of men. 
Advocates for slavery, and apologists for slavery, 
in the church and out of it, may assume it as certain 
that these are to be regarded as permanent doctrines 
in the faith of mankind, and that these doctrines 
will ultimately pervade the globe. England will 
never go back from the opinion expressed by Lord 
Mansfield; and the 'common law' of the world will 
not be so changed as to declare that slavery is con- 
sistent with the laws of nature and the fundamental 
doctrines of the rights of man. "It is repugnant to 
reason and the principles of natural law that such a 
state should subsist anywhere."* 

"With equal certainty, the advocates of slavery, 
and the apologists for slavery, may \aj it down as 
a fixed principle that no book pretending to be a 
revelation from God can maintain its hold on the 
faith of men which is not, by fair interpretation, 
understood to maintain these doctrines, or which 
can be shown to advocate slavery. It is an objec- 
tion strongly urged by Mr. Newman (Phases of 
Faith) against the Bible that it does defend slavery: 
perhaps the only instance in which this has been 
alleged by any objector against the truth of Revela- 
tion from Celsus to the present time. The fact that 
he has urged it shows that infidels would be glad to 
avail themselves of this as a weapon against revealed 

* ] Blackstone, 423. 


religion if they could; the manner in which lie 
has done it is such that it would be impossible to 
remove the objection if the Bible in fact sustained 
slavery; while, at the same time, the fact that the 
objection has not been insisted on before by infidels 
may be referred to as an incidental proof that the 
Bible is not in favour of slavery. It is obvious, 
however, that all those ministers of religion who 
maintain that slavery is an institution sanctioned by 
the Bible become, in this respect, helpers and allies 
of such men as Mr. Xewman, and put an argument 
into the hands of infidels which it would not be 
possible to refute, and no stronger argument against 
the divine origin of the Bible could be uro-ed. The 
world, in its advanced periods, — in the position to 
which it is tending, — would not receive any book as 
a revelation from God which could be fairly appealed 
to sustain American slavery. That fact, if it were 
a fact, would neutralize every argument in favour 
of the book; for it would be alleged, and in a man- 
ner to which no reply could lie made, that men may 
be mistaken in regard to the external evidences of 
a professed revelation from God, but that they can- 
not be mistaken ultimately in regard to the deep- 
seated principles of justice, equity, and humanity, 
which the Author of our being has implanted in 
the human soul. Of one thing, therefore, the Chris- 
tian church maybe assured: — that mankind will not 
ultimately receive, as a revelation from God, oiijj 
book which, by a lair interpretation, sustains the 
institution of slavery. Every man who asserts that 
that is a fair interpretation of the Bible does just so 
much to make infidels; every one who maintains 


that position puts a weapon into the hand of infi- 
delity which can never be wrested from it. We 
cannot answer the argument for infidelity drawn 
from this source, if we admit that slavery is au- 
thorized by the Bible, any more than we could 
answer the argument if the Bible, by a fair inter- 
pretation, justified polygamy, theft, highway rob- 
bery, or piracy. 

But let slavery be removed from the church, and 
let the voice of the church with one accord be lifted 
up in favour of freedom ; let the church be wholly 
detached from the institution, and let there be 
adopted by all its ministers and members an inter- 
pretation of the Bible — as I believe there may be 
and ouo*ht to be — that shall be in accordance with 
the deep-seated principles of our nature in favour of 
freedom, and with our own aspirations for liberty, 
and with the sentiments of the world in its onward 
progress in regard to human rights, and not only 
would a very material objection against the Bible 
be taken away, — and one which would be fatal if it 
were well founded, — but the establishment of a very 
strong argument in favour of the Bible as a revela- 
tion from God would be the direct result of such a 
position. For then it might be urged that the 
Bible not only appeals to great principles of our 
nature as God has made us, but it might "be asked, 
in a manner to which no infidel could reply, how it 
happened that the Bible, in this respect, was so far 
in advance of the age in which it was written. 
How came sentiments to be incorporated in a book 
penned in Judea, so entirely in accordance with 
what would ultimately be the views of the most 


enlightened and civilized portions of the world, and 
so far in advance of the prevailing sentiments of 
the age in which it was written ? How came it to 
utter such, sentiments in favour of human freedom 
and the rights of all men at a time when the uni- 
versal voice of the world was in favour of slavery ? 
How can this fact he better accounted for — how can 
it he accounted for at all — except on the supposition 
that the writers of the 2sTew Testament were taught 
from on high, and were led by a Spirit superior to 
their own, to utter sentiments directly the reverse 
of the prevailing opinions of their own age, but in 
entire accordance with what would become ultimately 
the sentiments of the world and enter at last into the 
laws of all civilized nations ? "I defy any man," says 
the author of the 'Eclipse of Faith,'* "to discover, in 
any age, or in any nation, any considerable body of 
men who breathed a word of disapprobation of sla- 
very as such till Christianity came into the world ; nor 
then, except among those nations that have been 
brought into contact with it. The apathy of all the 
nations of antiquity, and all nations not Christian at 
the present day, — the utter unconsciousness of the 
best moralists of antiquity of there being any harm 
in slavery, — confirms the conclusion that the orion- 
nation of right sentiment on this subject has been 
the work of Christianity. Nothing really avails 
against this gigantic evil except the influences that 
have abolished both the slave-trade and slavery 
among ourselves; that is, a deep impression that 
slavery is utterly opposed, if not to the letter, yet 

* Defence of the "Eclipse of Faith," p. 168. 


to the entire spirit, of Christianity, and that it and 
the gospel cannot coexist in perpetuity. It may 
last long, for human cupidity is not more easily 
subdued than slavery; but where Christianity 
enters the fray is sure to begin, and will never 
terminate but with the extinction of slavery itself." 
At the very time when the noble sentiments which 
occur in the New Testament in favour of the 
equality of man and the claims of humanity and 
human rights were uttered by the apostles and dis- 
ciples of the Saviour, — sentiments universally ad- 
mitted to be opposed to slavery and to be such as 
would, if fairly applied, bring slavery everywhere 
to an end, except by the few Christian ministers 
and members of the churches who endeavour to 
defend the institution from the Bible, and who aim 
to place the relation on the same basis as that 
of husband and wife and guardian and ward, and 
by a few infidels (if there should be found enough 
in addition to Mr. Newman to justify the use of 
the word l few,' as applied to them) who have urged 
it as an objection to the Bible that it sanctions 
slavery, — the following facts show what was then 
the current opinion on the subject in the most 
enlightened nations of the world : — " The custom 
of exposing old, useless, or sick slaves in an island 
of the Tiber, there to starve, seems to have been 
pretty common at Rome; and whoever recovered, 
after having been so exposed, had his liberty given 
him by an edict of the Emperor Claudius, in which 
it was likewise forbidden to kill any slave merely 
for old age or sickness. It was the professed 
maxim of the elder Cato to sell his superannuated 


slaves at any price rather than maintain what he 
esteemed a useless burden. 

"The ergastula, or dungeons, where slaves in 
chains were forced to work, were very common all 
over Italy. Columella advises that they be always 
built under ground, and recommends it as the duty 
of a careful overseer to call over every day the 
names of these slaves, like the mustering of a regi- 
ment or ship's company, in order to know presently 
when any of them had deserted. 

u Xo thing [was] so common in all trials, even of 
civil cases, as to call for the evidence of slaves, 
which was always extorted by the most exquisite 
torments. Demosthenes says that, when it was 
possible to produce for the same fact either free- 
men or slaves as witnesses, the judge always pre- 
ferred the torturing of slaves as a more certain 

" The master had the entire right of property in 
the slave, and could do just as he pleased with his 
person and life, his person and his earnings. In 
regard to the power of life and death, it was con- 
tended, the master could use the slave for any pur- 
pose that suited his own pleasure. He could punish 
him, put him to pain and torture, and — free from 
all obligation to give account of his own actions — ■ 
could put him to death in any way that pleased 


Slaves were liable to every kind of torture ; and 
cruel masters sometimes kept on their estates tor- 

* Hume's Essays, Part II. Essay 11. 

j- Prof. W. A. Becker's Biblio. Sac., vol. ii. p. 571. 


mentors by profession, for the purpose of punishing 
their slaves. Burying alive was sometimes resorted 
to ; and crucifixion was frequently made the fate of 
a slave for trifling misconduct, or from mere caprice. 
They were slain as food for fishes ; and the ques- 
tion often arose, whether, in a storm, a man should 
sacrifice a horse or a less valuable slave.* 

It is for the infidel to show, when these were the 
prevailing views and sentiments on the subject of 
slavery throughout the world, — when in all the writ- 
ings of ancient sages and moralists no other views are 
expressed, — when with the severest moralists of an- 
cient times there is no denunciation of the system, — 
when there was nothing in the principles which they 
inculcated that would tend to subvert the institution 
of slavery or lead to emancipation, — how it happened 
that fishermen from Judca, uneducated men, gave 
utterance to the noble sentiments in the Xew Testa- 
ment, and laid down principles utterly opposed to 
slavery, and that would, in their fair application, 
emancipate every slave on the face of the earth. 
Of this fact it is right that the friends of the Bible 
should be able to avail themselves ; but of this 
fact they cannot avail themselves if it be main- 
tained that the Bible is favourable to slavery, or if 
slavery is countenanced and sustained in the Christian 
church. . This one thing is as certain as any thing can 
be : — that there are large — increasingly large — classes 
of men who never can be convinced that a book is 
a revelation from God which abets and upholds 
slavery, or which can be used as a defence of 

* Wayland's Letters 011 Slavery, pp. 8G, 87. 


slavery as it exists in our land. We must either 
give up the point that the New Testament defends 
slavery, or we must give up a very large — and an in- 
creasingly large — portion of the people of this land to 
infidelity; for it is certain they neither can nor will 
be convinced that a book which sanctions slavery 
is from God. I believe that this must inevitably 
be so ; and that there are great principles in our 
nature, as God has made us, which can never be 
set aside by any authority of a professed revela- 
tion : and that if a book claiming to be a revela- 
tion from God, by any fair interpretation defended 
slavery, or placed it on the same basis as the re- 
lation of husband and wife, parent and child, guar- 
dian and ward, such a book would not and could 
not be received by the mass of mankind as a divine 

Hence it seems to me to be so important that the^ 
church should assume a just position on this subject, 
by detaching itself wholly from slavery, just as it de- 
taches itself from piracy, intemperance, theft, licen- 
tiousness, and duelling. Let these things be or be 
not defended by the world ; let them be or be not up- 
held by men who make no pretensions to religion; 
let the people of the world outside of the church 
judge of them as they please ; but from each and all 
forms of oppression, and wrong, and cruelty, and 
fraud, let the church stand aloof, bearing a solemn 
testimony to mankind in regard to the evil of these 
things. On these points, and on all points of wrong, 
let the church place itself where it shall not be pos- 
sible to mistake its position ; where its example can 
never be plead in justification of these things; and 



where the infidel can never allege, in support of his 
own views, that the church of God, professing a belief 
in an inspired book, places itself in a position where 
the doctrines which it holds, and the sentiments which 
it aims to propagate, impinge on great principles of 
human nature, and make it impossible, if they are 
the fair teachings of that book, to receive it as a 
revelation from God. 

It is impossible not to reflect on the noble posi- 
tion which the Christian church would occupy if the 
sentiments which have been advocated in this essay 
should become the practical sentiments of the church 
at large. Should such views prevail, what an 
example would it furnish to the world at large! 
Then the authority of the church could no more 
be urged in favour of a system which practi- 
cally annuls the obligation of the marriage-vow, 
dissolves or ignores the authority of parents over 
their children, withholds from them the word of 
God, robs them of the avails of their labour, and 
subjects them to cruelties and wrongs for which by 
law they have no redress and of which they may 
not even complain. Then the attack on Christianity 
as upholding such a system would cease, and it could 
no more be alleged with any show of plausibility that 
the Bible justifies oppression and wrong. Then the 
infidel abolitionist could no more upbraid the church 
for maintaining sentiments which violate all the great 
and generous principles of our nature; and then he 
could no longer present himself — as he may do now, 
and actually does now — as holding sentiments and 
maintaining doctrines more in accordance with the 
great principles of humanity — more in accordance 


with what God has enstamped on man's heart — than 
are held by those who profess to receive the Bible as 
a revelation from God: — giving to infidelity, nnder 
the form of abolitionism, the advantage of being more 
in conformity with the laws of our being, and there- 
fore with the laws of God, than the teachings of the 
Bible. Then the enemies of our country could no 
more revile the church for upholding a system which 
is becoming more and more offensive to mankind; 
for defending, in a land that is the boasted asylum 
of liberty, a system of oppression which is now with- 
out a parallel in the worst forms of government in 
the despotic systems of the Old World ; and then the 
churches abroad would no more have occasion to re- 
monstrate with the churches at home for contributing 
to uphold a system that violates all their notions of 
the gospel. Then the church of God would present 
an unbroken front in opposing a system which de- 
prives three millions of human beings of every 
right with which their Creator has endowed them ; 
effaces from those made in the image of God, as far 
as it can be done, every trace of that image ; and 
treats as articles of barter and sale, trade and traffic, 
— as chattels and things, — those for whom the Be- 
deemer shed his precious blood. God grant, in his 
infinite mercy, that the time may speedily come when 
some chief-justice shall utter, on the bench of the 
highest tribunal in the land, the noble sentiment of 
Mansfield: — 'The air of America is too pure for a 
slave, and every man is free who breathes it;' and 
'God grant, as preliminary to that, and as placing the 
church on the ground which at such a period it 
ought to occupy, that it may soon become a fact 


known to all men that among the ministers of re- 
ligion in this land not one can be found who will 
be an apologist or an advocate for slavery; that 
from no ecclesiastical body shall an influence go 
forth to extend or perpetuate the system; that 
among all the ministers and members of the churches 
not one shall hold a fellow-man in bondage; and 
that no infidel, looking on this system of oppres- 
sion, cruelty, and wrong, shall be able to say, on the 
authority of any minister of religion, any member 
of a Christian church, any expositor of the Bible, 
or any editor of a religious paper, that this system 
is sustained by what professes to be a revelation 
from God ! 

Philadelphia, October, 185G. 


The Reformed Presbyterian church in America is com- 
posed of the descendants of the persecuted Covenanters of 
Scotland. Not a few of the Covenanters emigrated from 
Scotland and came to this country in the early part of the 
last century, and were extensively scattered in Vermont, New 
York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.* They preserved 
the habit of meeting for prayer, in the places where they 
were located, for many years before they had among them a 
regular ministry. As they differed in their views of civil 
government from most of the Presbyterians of this country, 
though agreeing with them mainly on the great doctrines of 
the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, they remained 
separate from them, though they had no distinct organization 
of their own. About the year 1743, the Covenanters in the 
colony of Pennsylvania "met, for the renovation of their vows, 
at Middle Octorara." They were aided in their purpose of 
organizing themselves by the Rev. Mr. Craighead. He after- 
ward left them and connected himself with a Presbyterian 

After eight years, during which the society remained with- 
out a pastor, the Rev. Mr. Cuthbertson was sent from the 
Reformed Presbytery in Scotland, and laboured twenty years, 
with no other one to assist him, in the collection and organiza- 
tion of churches. The Reformed Presbytery was formed in 
the year 1774, by three ministers who had been sent over 
from Europe in order to organize the church in this country.^ 

* Life of Dr. McLeod, p. 50. 

f Reformation Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, pp. 




"They are distinguished from other Presbyterians chiefly by their 
rigid adherence to all the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of 
Faith, Catechisms, Larger and Shorter; to the Scotch Covenants, — 
maintaining that the obligations of the 'National Covenant' and 
'Solemn League' extend to all represented in the taking of them, 
though removed to this or any other part of the world, in so far as 
these Covenants bind to duties not peculiar to the church in the British 
Isles, but are of universal application. They also contend that nations 
enjoying the light of Divine revelation are bound to frame their 
government according to it; and where the Bible is known they refuse 
to swear allegiance to any system of civil government which does not 
acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as King and recognise the Bible 
as the supreme law of the land. 

"In 1807 they published a doctrinal Testimony, containing a binef 
statement of the principles which they hold, and a testimony against 
opposing errors, with special reference to the evils existing in the 
national Constitution, and the constitutions of the churches around 
them. They continued united in the maintenance of this testimony, 
neither holding communion with other churches, nor offices in the 
State, nor voting at elections for civil officers, nor admitting any slave- 
holder to their communion, till about 1830, when, their number being 
considerably increased, several ministers began to entertain opinions 
different from those which were formerly held by the body on several 
points. These men were led to modify their views on the subject of 
acknowledging the government of the country and avowing allegiance 
to it. This introduced what has been called the New-Light contro- 
versy, which has since resulted in a division of the Synod, and the 
organization of another Synod in the Reformed Presbyterian church, 
which still maintains a separate existence. 

"This controversy greatly distressed the church and retarded the 
growth of the body. The members of the church generally retained 
their attachment to the subordinate standards, but many congregations 
were left without pastors. The Theological Seminary for a time sus- 
pended its operations, so that labourers for a foreign field could not 
be obtained; but home missions, especially in the West, have been 
prosecuted with considerable zeal. A more prosperous season has 
returned. The Theological Seminary in Alleghany City, Pennsyl- 
vania, has been revived. It has two professors, and ten or fifteen 
students are usually in attendance ; a considerable library for the 
Seminary has been collected; and the Synod established a mission, in 
1844, in the West Indies, making St. Thomas the centre of operation. 
This body is composed of one Synod, six Presbyteries, fifty-nine 


ministers, eighteen licentiates and students, nearly or quite eighty 
churches, and nearly seven thousand members. 

" On the other hand, the other Synod has now fifty or fifty-five 
ordained ministers, seven licentiates, eight or ten students in theology, 
some seventy-five or eighty organized churches, and more than seven 
thousand communicants. It has seven Presbyteries, and sustains, in 
connection with the Board of Foreign Missions of the Old-School 
General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, two or three mission- 
aries in India. Besides supporting these missionaries, the Board of 
Missions of this Synod sustains a school containing twenty or thirty 
children, in connection with their Indian Mission. They have been 
active, also, in prosecuting the work of domestic missions, and, thus, 
of building up churches in the West and other parts of the country. 
The receipts of their Boards of Missions average about $3500 annually. 

"The entire body of the Reformed Presbyterians in the United 
States embraces, therefore, about one hundred and eight ordained 
ministers, fifteen licentiates, twenty-five students of theology, nearly 
one hundred and sixty organized congregations, and about fourteen 
thousand communicants."* 

The subject of slavery early engaged the attention of the 
Reformed Presbyterian church. A few persons in the church, 
it seems, were owners of slaves; and in the year 1800 a ciiv 
cumstance occurred which called the attention of the church 
to the subject, and led to the resolution in the church to 
remove it entirely. This circumstance, and the consequent 
action of the church on the subject, is thus stated in the work 
referred to above, — "Reformation Principles of the Reformed 
Presbyterian Church/' pp. 134-135. 

"In the year 1800, Mr. McLeod had received a call to the congre- 
gation of "Wallkill, and among the subscribers there were holders of 
slaves. He urged this fact as a motive for rejecting the call. The 
Presbytery, now having the subject regularly before them, resolved 
to purge the church of this dreadful evil. They enacted that no slave- 
holder should be retained in their communion. This measure was 
greatly facilitated by the spirited and faithful exertions of the Rev. 
Messrs. James Mc Kinney and Samuel B. Wylie, who had been ap- 

* Dr. Baird's Religion in America, pp. 511 — ."il (. 


pointed a committee to visit the Southern States and regulate the 
concerns of the church in that part of America. These gentlemen set 
out upon their mission in the month of November, 1800. They tra- 
velled through Pennsylvania, and from Pittsburg sailed down the 
Ohio to Kentucky. They rode from thence to South Carolina ; and, 
having settled the affairs of the church and abolished the practice of 
holding slaves among church-members in the South, they returned 
in the spring to the State of New York. The Presbytery approved 
of the services of their committee, and required of their connections a 
general emancipation. No slave-holder is since admitted to their 

" Thus have the Presbytery endeavoured to settle the doctrine and 
the practice of the church. ,; 

The action of the church on the subject is further detailed 
in the memoir of Dr. Alexander McLeod, by the late Dr. 
Samuel B. Wylie :— 

" In the fall of 1800, a call was made on Mr. McLeod to the pastoral 
charge of the united congregations of the city of New York, and 
Coldenham, in Orange county, in the same State. Mr. McLeod de- 
murred, on the plea that there were slave-holders among the sub- 
scribers to the call. He urged this fact as reason for rejecting the 
call. The Presbytery, now having this subject regularly brought be- 
fore them, determined at once to purge our section of the church of 
the great evil of slavery. They enacted that no slave-holder should 
be allowed the communion of the church. Thus, at Mr. McLeod's 
suggestion, the subject was acted upon, even before he became a mem- 
ber of the Presbytery ; and this inhuman and demoralizing practice 
was purged from our connection. It is true, it only required to be 
mentioned and be regularly brought before the court. There was no 
dissenting voice in condemning the nefarious traffic in human flesh. 
From that period forward, none either practising or abetting slavery 
in any shape has been found on the records of our ecclesiastical con- 

At about the same period, a committee was appointed to 
visit the scattered churches in the Southern States. It was 
during this visit that action was taken which forever detached 

* Memoir of Dr. Alexander McLeod, by Dr. Samuel B. Wylie, p. 51. 


the Reformed Presbyterian church in the South from all con- 
nection with slavery. The nature of this action cannot be 
better expressed than in the words of Dr. Wylie, who was 
himself one of the committee. The statement occurs in the 
account of the settlement of a minister at Rocky Creek, South 
Carolina: — 

"The congregation here had been for some time "without a pastor; 
and, as of course references for sessional action might be expected, 
they were not wanting. After examinations, ministerial visitations, 
and numerous meetings of Presbytery and Session, a joint call was 
made on Messrs. Donelly and Wylie to become co-pastors of the con- 
gregation. Here, again, Mr. Wylie had leave from the committee to 
postpone, for the present, any determination respecting this call, until 
the services of the mission should be closed. Mr. Donelly accepted, 
and was ordained and installed accordingly. Previously, however, to 
the dispensation of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, which was 
celebrated after Mr. Donelly' s ordination, the committee stated the 
decision of Presbytery at the last meeting in Coldenham, respecting 
slave-holders, declaring that such must either immediately emancipate 
their slaves or be refused admission to the Lord's table. The com- 
mittee were no less surprised than delighted to find with what alacrity 
those concerned came forward and complied with the decree of Presby- 
tery. In one day, it is believed that in the small community of the 
Reformed Presbyterian church in South Carolina not less than three 
thousand guineas were sacrificed on the altar of principle. The 
people promptly cleansed their hands from the pollution of the ac- 
cursed thing. So far as is recollected, only one man who had been a 
member of the church absolutely refused to emancipate his negroes. 
His name is forgotten ; but his location was beyond the line of the 
State, in North Carolina. A nobler, more generous and magnanimous 
people than these South Carolinians are seldom met with in any 

These extracts show definitely what is the position of the 
Reformed Presbyterian church on the subject of slavery. The 
church is entirely detached from the system. It has borne 
its solemn testimony against it, and has consistently carried 

* Memoir of Dr. Alexander McLeod, by Dr. Sanmel B. Wylie, pp.53, 56. 


out that testimony by becoming entirely separated from all 
connection with it. 

A few remarks may be added in reference to the position of 
that church. 

(1.) It is a position in advance of all others in this country, 
unless it be the Society of Friends; and, in respect to being 
entirely separated from slavery, it stands on the same level 
with that Society. The Synod of New York and Philadelphia, 
in 1787, and before the formation of the General Assembly, 
as I have shown iu this volume, (pp. 53-54,) had acted on 
the subject, adopting a resolution recommending "it to all 
the people under their care to use the most prudent measures, 
consistent with the interest and the state of civil society in 
the parts where they live, to procure, eventually, the final 
abolition of slavery in America." In 1818, the General 
Assembly passed the noble resolutions which, as I have en- 
deavoured to show, determined the position of the whole 
Presbyterian church, and laid the foundation for all that has 
been done by the New-School portion of the church, and 
which can never be fully carried out, in their true intent and 
meaning, but by the entire separation of the church from sla- 
very. But almost twenty years before that action of the 
General Assembly, the Reformed Presbyterian church had 
taken a position as high and honourable in its testimony on 
the subject as that which is found in the acts of 1787 and 
1818, and had actually carried out, in its own body, what was 
contemplated by those resolutions, — the entire separation of 
the church from slavery. 

(2.) The position taken by the Pteformed church is emi- 
nently high and honourable. It was a position taken by prin- 
ciple, and was carried out by noble principle and self-sacrifice. 
It is true that the body was a small one, and true that there 
were not many who were slave-holders in the church; but the 
act implied all the sacrifice, so far as jirincqjle is concerned, 
which would be implied in removing slavery on a larger scale 


from the church, and, in the individual cases, involved all the 
sacrifice which would be involved now. I know of almost 
nothing in the history of the church more noble, or manifest- 
ing more determined principle, than that which was evinced 
in the fact recorded in the extract already made: — "The 
committee were no less surprised than delighted to find with 
what alacrity those concerned came forward and complied with 
the decree of Presbytery/' [that they "must either imme- 
diately emancipate their slaves or be refused admission to the 
Lord's table."] "In one day, it is believed that in the small 
community of the Reformed Presbyterian church in South 
Carolina not less than three thousand guineas were sacrificed 
on the altar of principle. The people promptly cleansed their 
hands from the pollution of the accursed thing. So far as 
recollected, only one man who had been a member of the 
church absolutely refused to emancipate his negroes. His 
name is forgotten; but his location was beyond the line of the 
State, in North Carolina. A nobler, more generous and 
magnanimous people than these South Carolinians are seldom 
met with in any community." (Memoir of Dr. McLeod, pp. 
53-54.) Let this spirit be imitated by all Christians, and sla- 
very in the church would soon come to an end. 

(3.) The action of that denomination shows the practica- 
bility of detaching the church from slavery. It is true that 
slave-holders are more numerous in most of the large denomi- 
nations of Christians than they were in the Ileformed Presby- 
terian church ; but this fact does not render it an impracticable 
and hopeless thing to separate the church from slavery. With 
the same degree of principle, and the same spirit of self- 
sacrifice, the work might be accomplished in all other churches 
as well as in that denomination ; and, with no unkindness of 
feeling, and with a deep sense of all the difficulties involved 
in the subject, I may add, as my own deliberate conviction, 
that if there were the same depth of principle and the same 
spirit of self-denial, the period would not be remote when the 


two branches of the Presbyterian church, consistently carrying 
out the principles often avowed and standing unrepealed as 
their public testimony against the evil, would occupy the same 
noble position on the subject now occupied by the Society of 
Friends and by the Reformed Presbyterian church. 



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